Police corruption in the real world is a depressing and occasionally devastating thing, but it offers plenty of dark and entertaining material for the movies. Street Kings, L.A. Confidential, and Copland are all fantastic fictions, but there’s a subset of the genre focused on true stories. Films like Serpico and Prince of the City, while still entertaining, turn tragic truths into eye-opening dramas.
Kazuya Shiraishi’s Twisted Justice is based on a true story from Japan involving two decades of corrupt, criminal, and at times crazy behaviors by a police department seemingly immune to accountability. Don’t let the heavy backstory fool you though – this is a black comedy about the intersection of greed and stupidity.
Yoichi Moroboshi (Go Ayano) is nothing more than a judo champ in 1975, happily slamming his way to victories and trophies, when he’s approached by the Hokkaido police department to join the force – because they want to win the national judo championship. Four years later Moroboshi is a rookie cop trying to do his best by following the rules when a more established detective, Sadao Murai (Pierre Taki), takes him under his wing. “You want a safe world,” says Murai, “become a gynecologist. Then you can kill all the babies.” He tells Moroboshi their job is cleaning up crap, and the best way to do that is through cutting corners, shaking down the locals, and working with the criminals to catch other criminals.
Moroboshi becomes a fast learner, and soon he’s racking up arrests thanks to tips from bad guys in exchange for ignoring their own illegal activities. His rise also sees him treating drugs like water, women like objects, and the public like a nuisance. As the years pass he moves from department to department, building relationships with criminals and developing new scams along the way. His superiors aren’t oblivious, but they willingly turn a blind eye as his results are too damn good to ignore.
Until they’re not.
Shiraishi and writer Jun’ya Ikegami fill their true story with beats and moments designed to have viewers laughing at the idiocy of it all before pausing to realize just how sad of a reality this is. Moroboshi’s early days see him giving his card to crooks and asking for tips, but eventually he just starts making the crimes happen. At one point he begins importing guns into Japan just so he can make arrests and seize guns – a perfectly ridiculous plan until thousands of guns disappear.
Ayano carries his character across the decades with an ever-growing arrogance, and while the character leaves likable far behind the performance ensures we continue to see the bumbling innocence and desire to succeed resting just beneath the surface. We buy his moments of stupidity as easily as we do his violent outbursts, and while we don’t condone his behavior Ayano makes it easy to feel sympathy for the man.
At over two hours some of the antics do grow a bit repetitive as Moroboshi plateaus in his efforts before it all comes crashing down. We only need so many scenes of his increasingly desperate and out of control attitude before it becomes overkill. That time could have been better spent on bolstering some of the supporting characters with women in particular getting the continual short shrift here. Sure it’s how Moroboshi views them, but there’s room for the film to present women as more than just recipients of men’s leers, fists, and desires.
The literal translation of the title is The Worst Bad Guys in Japan, and it’s far more accurate than the American-ized international one, Twisted Justice. Both work though for a tale of one man – with the department’s blessing – doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. As the story comes to a close even Moroboshi finds himself at the wrong end of justice that doesn’t quite seem right.
NYAFF 2016 runs June 22nd through July 9th