NYAFF 2014 runs June 27-July 14 in New York City. Follow all of our coverage here.
If there’s one takeaway from Yoshihiro Nakamura‘s (Fish Story, Golden Slumber) latest film it’s that people are the same the world over. More specifically, people are horrible the world over. The Snow White Murder Case explores this phenomenon by way of a vicious murder and the equally brutal savaging of the prime suspect in the court of public opinion via social media and TV “news.”
A woman’s dead body is discovered in a park after being stabbed multiple times and set on fire. Akahoshi Yuji (Ayano Gô), a low-level assistant on a true crime news show, is approached by an old school friend who was the victim’s co-worker at a big cosmetic company and is in the mood to reluctantly share gossip. Seeing it as a possible career-maker, Yuji begins teasing the revelations on Twitter as a lead-up to producing an episode of the show focused on the highly publicized case. Interviews with other employees lead him to a possible suspect in the shy and “odd” Shirono Miki (Inoue Mao) whose disappearance, conspicuously timed to right after the murder of the beautiful and beloved Miki Noriko (Nanao), confirms her guilt to strangers and acquaintances alike.
The Snow White Murder Case explores a sensational crime by way of the hunt for and public persecution of the prime suspect, and it does it all without once touching on the police investigation. Instead, while the characters are busy condemning and publicly shaming Miki the film is actually condemning them. The gossip mongers, the media whores, the legions of anonymous online bullies whose allegiances shifts with the wind — this is their trial, and the verdict is guilty.
The film opens with Noriko’s dead body, clad in a white dress slowly turning crimson as her lifeblood seeps out from a dozen knife wounds. As the flames appear so do onscreen tweets from random people commenting on the murder. Into this mix appears tweets from Yuji who, under the handle Red Star 07, tweets reviews of the restaurant meals he eats (spoiler, it’s always poorly cooked ramen). When his old friend Kano Risako (Renbutsu Misako) makes contact he immediately begins milking the situation for attention online and at the office.
His selfish actions get the ball rolling as interviews with various players — each identified onscreen by their association to Miki — reveal versions of events, both recent and long ago, that don’t always correlate with each other. Details big and small differ between versions, but the core “truth” being created is that Miki’s issues began as a young girl and blossomed as an adult resulting in a socially awkward schemer capable of monstrous acts.
Between tweets that act as social media stabbings and fully produced segments of the true crime show — complete with hosts drawing conclusions about the murder and Miki’s sanity — Nakamura’s film highlights the public’s complicity is supporting soulless reality “news” shows and promoting a mentality that encourages a desire to knock others down, to be right, to be first and to be superior to people we often don’t even know. Public perception is formed and shaped faster than the facts are revealed, and the public doesn’t seem to care.
The other facet here beyond a condemnation of the public’s appetite for attention and news as entertainment is a serious look at the effects of bullying. Flashbacks to Miki’s youth, from early childhood up through college and the beginning of her career at the cosmetics company, reveal the jealousies and mob mentality that keeps bullying alive and well. The bully thrives off the audience, the audience thrives on watching the carnage and avoiding being next on the menu. That concept applies to the online world as well, and the film captures the character assassinations committed by faceless judges and juries sitting behind anonymous keyboards.
There’s an inherent cruelty in people fed by fear, ignorance or simple meanness, and it knows no boundaries of nationality, race, sex, creed, politics or age. But as the film shows, it all goes to make the true moments of friendship and kindness that much more powerful.
The Snow White Murder Case lacks the consistent emotional pull and fully engrossing narrative found in Nakamura’s Fish Story, Golden Slumber, A Boy and His Samurai and See You Tomorrow Everyone, but there’s enough of both here to maintain a hold on your attention.
The Upside: Wise commentary on bullying and the court of public opinion; heart wrapped in a pessimistic blanket
The Downside: Structure makes emotional connection impossible until late in film; drags a bit
On the Side: Minato Kanae, author of the script’s source novel, has seen several of her books adapted for film and television including her first novel that became the beautiful, soul-crushing slowburn that is Confessions.