Based on the Edogawa Rampo award winning novel by Urio Shudo, Brain Man is a stylish psychological thriller which addresses such themes as guilt, redemption and the effects of childhood trauma. Are some people just born bad, can even those who’ve committed terrible crimes be rehabilitated? People on opposite sides of the legal system seem to have some conflicting ideas but perhaps the answer is never going to be as simple as ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
While a series of explosions rock a small provincial town, forensic psychologist Mariko Washiya (Yasuko Matsuyuki) is the head of a research programme which aims to help convicted felons come to terms with their crimes through interacting with the victim’s families and there by coming to feel a kind of empathy for all the hurt and destruction they have caused. After leaving the office one day she races to catch the bus only to miss it by seconds while a bunch of bratty kids make faces through the window. Moments after the bus pulls away, it explodes killing all on board. Becoming an unwitting witness to events, Mariko finds herself at odds with the hardline policeman investigating the crime. When the police arrest the perfect suspect, a strange, near silent man discovered at the site of an explosion, Mariko is called upon to examine him. Ichiro Suzuki (Toma Ikuta) presents himself robotically, answering each of Mariko’s questions at face value no matter how strange and otherwise remaining motionless. That is, until something disturbs his sense of justice and he breaks out some killer martial arts moves. As might be expected, nothing is quite as cut and dried as it might seem on the surface and something convinces Mariko that there might be something more ‘human’ locked away deep down in Ichiro’s psyche.
First and foremost Brain Man is pretty mainstream thriller which means it isn’t totally free of a few melodramatic turns and far fetched plot developments but by and large it gets away with them. The first plot line centred around the bombings quickly gives way to the mystery surrounding Brain Man himself before getting back to the bombers towards the end. The two narrative strands sometimes seem at odds with each other and don’t feel as cohesive as they perhaps should. Though having said that though the “bombers” plotline is definitely the film’s second strand it gives ample room for Fumi Nikaido’s gloriously crazed depiction of a drug addled lesbian terrorist which she manages to play in a refreshingly restrained way (well, as far as the part allows – it is a particularly well pitched performance). There is also even a third subplot regarding Mariko’s prestige project of a young man who’s shortly to be released from a young offenders institute (played by Shota Sometani) seemingly rehabilitated and eager rejoin society all thanks to Mariko’s new therapy program which plays in conjunction with a fourth subplot concerning Mariko’s family and its own past traumas. Undoubtedly, there’s a lot to juggle but Brain Man makes a surprisingly valiant attempt at getting it all to work together.
Director Tomoyuki Takimoto is probably best known for his previous film Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit – a low budget though similarly impressive adaptation of a manga. Brain Man has a slightly higher budget and its fair share of flashy direction both of which impress from the get go. Even more so Takimoto has amassed a cast of up and coming stars who each turn in well rounded performances ranging from the completely out there extremes of the aforementioned Fumi Nikaido to Shota Sometani’s small but complicated patient and, of course, Toma Ikuta’s powerful portrayal of the near silent and emotionless killing machine the Brain Man not to mention Yasuo Matsuyuki’s warm hearted doctor.
Although a little slow to get going initially and excusing the odd lacuna brought about by throwing the points on the great train track of narrative, Brain Man manages to pack in a decent amount of excitement into its relatively tightly plotted structure. In many ways it isn’t particularly original, but it does what it does pretty well and mixes in enough twists and turns to keep even the most jaded mystery enthusiast interested. Perhaps a little bit too crazy for its own good, Brain Man is another classy Japanese thriller that isn’t afraid that isn’t afraid to go to some pretty strange places in the name of entertainment.