Fantasia 2016 Review: THE TOP SECRET - MURDER IN MIND, Sci-Fi Thriller Explores a Start of Something Evil
In a police department in near future Tokyo Aoki Ikko sticks out like a sore thumb among his peers. He is an astute observer, picking up details other miss. He is also very persistent and determined. His skills earn him the scorn of his elders but they have also caught the attention of Department Nine, a special unit of the Metropolitan Police. The department has developed the technology that will access the memories of a deceased criminal or victim. They can recreate visual data stored in the brain.
Department 9 has come under scrutiny from the Police Force because one, whatever they find in the minds of the deceased is inadmissible in court, and two, of the toll this new technology has taken on agents who have gone into the minds of others to solve crimes. Most notably is the death of Suzuki Katsuhiro after he went into the mind of mass murderer Kainuma Kiyotaka. With one more opportunity to prove their relevance Department 9 has arranged to scan one more mind, that of a death row inmate Tsuyuguchi Koichi who was charged with the murder of his wife, mother-in-law, and two daughters. Tsuyoshi Maki’s team will discover just how far back the wheels were put in motion for this heinous crime; where the root of this evil truly exists.
The Top Secret’s director and writer, Ohtomo Keishi, and screenwriter Takahashi Izumi adapted Shimizu Reiko’s manga, Himitsu – Top Secret, and created a movie that offers many rug pulling moments as Department 9 goes further down the rabbit hole. Each twist puts the team in further peril, both physical and psychological, as they delve deeper to find out the truth behind the murders of the Tsuyuguchi family. Plot twists and surprises are evenly spaced out over the lengthy run time to keep your attention.
Production values are off the charts using interesting infrastructure around Japan and sets that hint at the near future Tokyo. The palette for this near future world is made of pale tones and neutral colors. There are a lot of lighting cues that made me reminiscent of the work of David Fincher. A little bit of soundwork makes a car sound futuristic. Just little tweaks that give it a hint of the future. All of the production design is mostly subtle though, with exception of say, the giant mind melding stations in Department 9’s facility, so the story remains within the realm of possibility, not the fantastical which would allow the audience the opportunity to disassociate themselves from the world Keishi has built off of Reiko’s manga. Keep your world within the realm of possibility and anything that happens on screen is also possible.
One time cult actress Chiaki Kuriyama is the film's emotional mediator, reminding everyone of what there is to lose and what has been lost already. Masaki Okada as Ikko Aoki is emotional and explosive. Toma Ikuta as Tsuyoshi Maki is cool tempered, maybe even cold, but while Aoki is prone to outbursts Maki remains calm in light of each development in the case. Though you can see that it has an effect on him. The introduction of another character at the beginning of the film (played by newcomer Lisa Oda) introduces and evocativeness and seductiveness. Here, in juxtaposition to the pale neutral toned world, the carnal acts burst with color and texture, making evil more visually appealing to the viewing audience.
As the story progresses the themes that arise, without giving away the plot developments, are those of seduction and manipulation. All players are tested or manipulated emotionally to the very end. Also there is the story here about what happens to those who dance with the devil. How long can you expect to hold onto your sanity when you expose yourself to so much evil. It is said throughout the film that the line between good and evil is a thin one. Immersing yourself in the thoughts of a multiple murderer carries a toll as we will see throughout the film.
The Top Secret is a thriller driven by human emotion and desire. Keishi breaks up that emotional tautness with a few thrills and splashes of horror but the core of his film is watching the players manipulate and test each other to see where their breaking points lie. Maki’s three rules when exploring someone else’s memories are 1. Be Objective 2. Be Objective and 3. Be Objective, but as the facts about the Tsuyuguchi murders come to light and the truth about their origin is revealed Department 9 being objective about their findings may prove to be their biggest challenge. This final test of theirs could be their last, ever.