Offbeat Cops (異動辞令は音楽隊!, Eiji Uchida, 2022)

A maverick lone wolf comes to understand that it’s all about harmony after getting demoted to the police band in Eiji Uchida’s procedural dramedy, Offbeat Cops (異動辞令は音楽隊!,  Ido Jirei wa Ongakutai!). Offbeat is definitely one way to describe Naruse (Hiroshi Abe) who has not only been taken off the streets but is constantly out of step not just with the times, but with his colleagues and family members too. Yet like so many in his position, he thinks it’s the world that’s wrong only later realising that creating a harmonious society is another means of effective policing. 

That realisation is however hard won. An unreconstructed ‘70s cop, Naruse thinks being a detective’s all about intimidation. He reads the paper during morning briefings and ignores advice from his superiors, insisting that it’s legwork that counts in modern day policing while privately convinced that a repeat offender he failed to catch five years previously is linked to a current spate of burglaries targeting the older generation in which scammers ring up claiming to be from the crime prevention squad and convince elderly people to tell them where the valuables are before breaking in, tying them up, and robbing the place. Barging into a suspect’s home without a warrant and threatening violence, he tries to prove his theory but is soon hauled before his bosses and told there’s been a complaint about him so he’s being demoted to the police band. 

One criticism he’d repeatedly received was that he had no ability to work as a team, always heading off to do his own thing rather than following the investigative line of the offer in charge. His demotion to the band is then ironic, especially as he’s being asked to play the drums, given that in order to succeed he’ll have to learn to march to the common beat. But being demoted eats away at his sense of self. If he’s not a cop then what is he and why are they making him waste his time on music when there are real bad guys out there cheating vulnerable people out of their life savings. Having divorced two years previously his relationship with teenage daughter Noriko (Ai Mikami) is already strained while he is also sole carer to his elderly mother (Mitsuko Baisho) who is suffering from dementia and keeps asking for his ex-wife and late father. He often snaps at her, cruelly reminding her of the reality rather than trying to be mindful of her constant confusion. 

What he realises while playing in the band is that wading in all fists blazing is not the only way to fight crime. After encountering a cheerful old lady who enjoyed his drum playing and tells him that she looks forward to hearing the police band play, he comes to understand that people want different things from their police force and community support is just as much a part of that as chasing crooks in the street. Though he has been relegated to the band, many of his colleagues are expected to do their regular jobs too and have familial responsibilities and petty resentments of their own. Meanwhile, his former partner begins to reflect on Naruse’s dogged love of justice in his absence taking on more than a few of his characteristics in his determination to catch the criminal, realising that perhaps it’s alright to bend the rules a little if the occasion calls as long as you don’t take it too far. 

Jamming with his new colleagues Naruse finally begins to realise the importance of group harmony, acknowledging his faults and apologising for them while rebuilding his relationships with friends and family. He may be wearing a different uniform, but he’s still a policeman and as long as the bad guys get caught it doesn’t matter by who. The big wigs may think the police band’s not really important, but as the banner says it helps build a bridge between the police force and the community which in turn helps prevent crime and leads to a happier, more harmonious society. Then again if you turn that around it might sound a little authoritarian in insisting that Naruse must learn to ignore the beat of his own drum to march to that of the collective while presenting an idealised view of the police’s place in the community, but it does indeed seem that he has managed to find a better accommodation with himself no longer so angry or intimidating but understanding of others and their troubles while rededicating himself to a more compassionate policing. 


Offbeat Cops screened as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

International trailer (English subtitles)

Images: ©2022 “Offbeat Cops” Film Partners

Love and Other Cults (獣道, Eiji Uchida, 2017)

love and other cultsEiji Uchida’s career has been marked by the stories of self defined outsiders trying to decide if they want to move towards or further away from the centre, but in his latest film Love and Other Cults ( 獣道, Kemonomichi), he seems content to let them linger on the margins. The title, neatly suggesting that perhaps love itself is little more than a ritualised set of devotional acts, sets us up for a strange odyssey through teenage identity shifting but where it sends us is a little more obscure as a still young man revisits his youthful romance only to find it as wandering and ill-defined as many a first love story and like many such tales, one ultimately belonging to someone else.

Our lovelorn hero and narrator, Ryota (Kenta Suga), observes the heroine from afar as he tells us her story, which is also his story in a sense. Ai (Sairi Itoh), a neglected child, drifts aimlessly in an uncaring world forever seeking a place to belong but finding no safe space to drop anchor. Ai’s mother, as drifting and aimless as her daughter, attempts to find salvation through religion but her quest for self-fulfilment drags her from one spiritual fad to the next all the while pulling little Ai along with her. The pair finally end up in a cult commune where Ai is a favourite of the leader – a Westerner called Lavi (Matthew Chozick) who preaches free love but only for himself.

Eventually, the cult is raided by the police, Lavi flees, and Ai is “rescued” but the next stage in her odyssey is no less disruptive than the last as she finds herself adrift in the mainstream world. Dropped into a regular high school, Ai tries to play the regular high school girl but can’t shake the cult member inside her. Semi-adopted by an ordinary family, her life gains some normalcy but it is short-lived and before long Ai finds herself in another sort of commune altogether before ending up in teenage prostitution followed by the porn industry.

If girls like Ai end up in AV, boys like Ryota end up in gangs. So it is that Ryota gets mixed up with two equally lost wannabe gangsters in Kenta (Antony) – an outsider by virtue of non-Japanese heritage, and the blond-headed Yuji (Kaito Yoshimura) who’s watched too many movies. Kenta is the de facto head of a little band of petty delinquent kids but he’s getting bored with gangster stuff and yearns for something more real while Yuji trails around after the lollipop sucking local chieftain (Denden). Ryota looks on casually without striking out in either direction, pining for Ai but either unwilling or unable to install himself as a permanent part of her reality.

As Ryota puts it, they’re all just looking for a place to belong. They don’t care where or what that place is, but what they long for is a sense of belonging born of owning their own identities. What may be a typical teenage problem of figuring oneself out takes on a larger dimension given the general instability of the world these youngsters find themselves in. Another in the long line of recent films losing faith with the family, Love and Other Cults finds no room for a familial solution to social woes. Ai has been so definitively let down that her very idea of family is so hopelessly warped as to permanently remove the possibility from her future.

Neglected in favour of her mother’s ongoing and inconclusive search for meaning, Ai’s major attachment is to unclear spirituality but even this becomes horribly misused thanks to her involvement with a shady cult. Having become the favourite of cult leader Lavi, Ai is used to trading herself for affection and security and so when she finds herself semi-adopted by the kindly family of a friend she attempts to use these same familial mechanisms to secure her position only to end up ruining the whole thing. Re-encountering Lavi (now an AV producer) again as an adult, Ai is still unable to see the way that she has been used and misused, quickly resuming her childhood role but without the spiritual pretence.

Ryota and Ai meander aimlessly outside of each other’s orbit, neither finding the place they feel they ought to be. Tellingly, the only real story which obeys narrative rules is that of depressed thug, Kenta, who finds an unlikely soul mate in a chance encounter with a photography loving deep-sea diver, Reika (Hanae Kan). Kenta and Reika are kindred spirits whose place to belong presents itself randomly and without warning yet is found all the same. There is no cult in this love, only mutual salvation. Ai and Ryota, however, are each trapped in their respective quests for fulfilment, disconnected, visible to each other only in brief, fragmented episodes and set to drift eternally yet always in search of a place to call home.


Love and Other Cults was screened as part of the 19th Udine Far East Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)