Film Reviews

Hiroki Narimiya as Phoenix Wright, rookie attorney, rocks the court.

Listening to Science Friday on NPR last week, I heard the author Ian Tattersall opine on the question as to whether Homo sapiens had any more evolution left in them. Based on the population pool of 7 billion and counting, he said, the answer was no. Our future lies in our culture, dense and rich and unprecedented on the planet, and not on developing a sixth finger or a third eye. (Or a wishy-washy smile of liberal contentment whenever NPR’s signature musical tones peal forth.)

Those familiar with Ace Attorney would probably beg to differ about that sixth finger. A fanboy fave, the video game by Shu Takumi has now been reborn as a film, one of the stars in the Honolulu International Film Festival’s Spring Showcase. An extra digit to manipulate the game controller would fit right into Ace Attorney’s noir-punk-anime courtroom setting.

In this Japanese futureworld, it’s the law that has evolved. All crimes must be decided in a bench trial lasting no more than three days, in a courtroom presided over by a bearded Iron Chef-like magistrate. Dirty tricks are part of the game, and high-tech presentations of evidence are accompanied by slam-dunk sound effects to a raving crowd of easily swayed spectators. The prosecution nearly always wins, often by airily producing “new evidence.”

If it reminds you of Justice Scalia reducing the fate of Obamacare to “Should we compel people to eat broccoli?” you’re not alone.

The loopy flashback-riddled wormhole of a plot opens with a hapless new lawyer, Phoenix Wright, forced to defend a young schoolgirl accused of murdering her spirit medium older sister, Mia Fey, who happens to be Wright’s boss. The prosecutor rival, Miles Edgeworth, is a Scarlet Pimpernel of The Law–dig the foppish clothes and haircut–but he’s also Wright’s former elementary school classmate and, as they say, Not All Bad.

The murdered Mia was pursuing a 15-year-old case when she was kiboshed by a black statue of a Maltese falcon–actually, a replica of Rodin’s “The Thinker,” made by Wright’s other former classmate, skater punk Larry Butz (played by director Miike Takashi). The statue also has psychic powers, and plays a recurring role in the courtroom, along with the dead muse, Mia, who appears whenever her baby sister slips into a fugue state. And that’s just the first trial; as in video game levels, the second and third trials that only get weirder, until the ultimate adversary emerges from the shadows.

As Sam Spade might say: “Don’t worry, Doll, it all makes gorgeous sense as long as you don’t think too hard.”

I started watching fully ready to abandon ship. But I never once shouted “Objection!” There’s lots to chew on intellectually, if you’re in an NPR mood, but don’t go see Ace Attorney for the news that our society is trading “authenticity” for “scripted entertainment,” whether in music (American Idol), extreme adventure (Survivor), romance (The Bachelor) or politics (the forthcoming Fox mini-series, Der Romntorumgingrichstag). You figured that out a long time ago.

Go see Ace Attorney instead for a whiplash-inducing detective story that mixes good old Conan Doyle/Agatha Christie plot reversals with Watchman-style graphics and fizzy Japanese pop-psychedelic humor. It’s evolution in action and if you’re like me, you may end up exclaiming, “No objection!”