Coming from the director of “Green Mind, Metal Bats” and based on the manga “Furîjia”, both with loyal followers, “Freesia - Bullets Over Tears” could count on being anticipated in its home country of Japan. Strange than that it has its world premiere at the International Film Festival Rotterdam!
“Another manga considered unfilmable has been filmed” claims the IFFR website, but when the script’s synopsis became known this production quickly was criticized by Furîjia fans by taking too many liberties with the manga’s characters and storylines. I have never read any Furîjia, but browsing about it made me wonder why the makers of “Freesia” bothered with acquiring the Furîjia license for this movie.
Sometimes a moviemaker just runs with the concepts of the thing he has licensed and creates his own thing of beauty with it. For example I applaud each and every change Mamoru Oshii made to "Ghost i/t Shell" when he made the movie version. But in this case I really wonder what director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri had in mind. He doesn’t so much run with the idea but takes a small stroll. The story is very shallow, a bare shadow of what is hinted at in the books, and what he does with the concept isn’t daring or interesting at all. The whole setup with hired killers who are state-endorsed to act either as "executioners" or "protectors" is wasted to tell a dime-a-dozen revenge tale where the biggest distinction is that both hunter and hunted aren't too interested in the outcome.
If you read the synopsis on the IFFR website you’ve basically seen the movie, so I won't repeat it. There isn’t anything else in it. A killer without emotion can be interesting, because you are fascinated by the fact that a human can become like that. The main character in Freesia gives you no cause for curiosity though: Hiroshi lost his emotions because he stood too close to a bomb which… well… makes you lose your emotions when you stand too close to it, one of the examples in this film of things happening… just because they happen. End of story for this character, and it doesn’t take long for the audience to lose as much interest in him as he has in the rest of the world. The action at the start is nice and promises a fun film, and when you see Hiroshi dispassionately eating lunch while a huge street riot breaks out around him I thought we might be in for a classic like "Battle Royale". But the movie sort of stops there, never adding anything new or taking the story anywhere interesting. Watching an emotionless person zombie-ing uncaringly through a silent and empty world gets mighty boring after a while. The other characters are either suffering from the same affliction as Hiroshi (and are therefore likewise uninteresting), or of the funny/irritating kind (and these aren’t involved in the story). The remaining action scenes are all fairly low key and while they have their moments they’ve all been done better elsewhere.
I could not connect with this movie. I found it inconsistent in its plot and too slow (this from a fan of the “Patlabor” movies and “Avalon”). It doesn't help that I saw this closely after "No Mercy For the Rude" which does everything this movie does, only far better. Of what I’ve seen this year at the IFFR “Freesia - Bullets Over Tears” got the lowest audience-rating (3.23, number 151 out of 190 films rated) and it got my lowest rating as well.