17th Japanese Film Festival 2013 Review: THE DEVIL'S PATH Is Murder Most Mediocre

Supposedly not a film for the faint at heart, The Devil's Path starts with a series of disturbing Yakuza psychopath activities that excitedly recall the manic darkness of I Saw The Devil or, closer to home, Miike's Lessons Of The Evil. This prelude into hardcore crime is abruptly cut by an elongated, tedious procedural before veering into a plot that is unsure what to do with itself.

Charmless protagonist Fujii (Yamada Takayuki) is a reporter drawn to a letter of confession from Suda, a murderer on death row. Suda claims there are other sinister acts he and his boss and mentor Kimura (Lily Franky) committed and gives Fujii a series of painfully slow cookie crumbs to pursue. Between convincing his editor and ignoring his demented mother and stay at home partner, Fujii travels from one abandoned location to the next, returning each time to the interview room in the prison. These bland scenes bleed into each other and just before the disdain sets in, the film throws back to seven years ago. Here all the confessed crimes and collusion are relived, there are no surprises, but this middle ground in an otherwise overlong film proves most entertaining.

Unfortunately the pacing is so muddled and the tone so completely off that these scenes of seriously disturbing criminal activity are instead unintentionally humorous. There is no doubt Suda is a monster, but the snarling yakuza stereotype has been done to death and there is literally nothing stylish or interesting about this character that grips or sustains. Lily Franky is amazing as Kimura, but he is also having way too much fun with the role and his sick, sadistic nature seems more funny than ominous.

Between them they commit heinous acts of pure evil but each scene of their collaboration and relationship barely convinces of the severe reality and tragedy of the situation. Despite the length no characters are really explored and the seven years that pass is given no proper timeline; these are narrative missteps that are inexcusably amateur.

The film itself is a low budget affair, it looks and sounds murky and save for a few grisly but unspectacular murders nothing cinematic occurs. The visuals are linked in a meaningful way, but only by this tedious and oftentimes heavy-handed message that we are all capable of evil. 

The length, dour look and mean-spirited but shallow nature of the film really gives no solid reason to see it. There are far better films that balance style, tone and content and equally explore and unearth human nature at its worst, especially from Japan. Truly disappointing given the gripping subject matter and true life implications.

The 17th Japanese Film Festival is now playing in Melbourne Australia from 28th-8th December, check out the schedule here
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