Four years isn’t that long ago, but with everything that has happened in 2020, it feels like ancient history. That’s one of the things that really work against Takafumi Hatano’s newest film: Silent Tokyo.
The movie is based on the novel And So This Is Xmas by Takehiko Hata, which came out in 2016 when then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was talking about changing the country’s constitution so that it could form its own military and engage in war. It was the perfect time for a story about a terrorist loose in Tokyo who plants bombs all over the capital and demands to speak to Japan’s Prime Minister or they will blow up Shibuya on Christmas. What made the story’s timing perfect back then was the twist ending (which the movie keeps) when it turned out that the action police thriller we’ve been following all this time is an anti-war movie that ultimately denounces violence and militarism.
It’s not the worst message and movie to have out there but it’s clearly a story from a very different time, making it that much harder to get into now. At the same time, it’s still a very modern-looking movie, so it doesn’t even work as escapism because too much of it reminds you of the here and now, and, sadly, that’s not where the film’s problems end.
One of the movie’s main characters is played by Tomoya Nakamura, whom the studios have been trying to make the next big thing for a while now. Counting Silent Tokyo, he’s appeared in five movies in 2020 (including Ninzu no Machi, Kiba: The Fangs of Fiction, Gone Wednesday, The Back of Shadow), and while it’s clear he has talent, his character in this movie is kind of boring and serves no real purpose. You could easily cut him out of the story completely and not lose much, while more interesting characters like the one played by Kai Inowaki (The Fable) are not given nearly enough screen-time.
But that’s not entirely fair. Nakamura’s character does in fact serve one purpose, and it’s also the area where Silent Tokyo accidentally becomes relevant despite its already dated anti-war message.
A pivotal scene involves the bomb plot on Shibuya being broadcast to the entire population, and absolutely no one taking it seriously. People still go to work in Shibuya despite the massive police presence trying to disperse the crowds. People still go to restaurants because it would be “such a waste to lose [their] reservations” and besides, they rationalize, even if the unthinkable happens and there really is a bomb near the station, the chances of them being affected by it are really slim. Hell, some people gathered around Shibuya to film themselves for their YouTube channels, being way too flippant over a potentially deadly threat. The movie finished filming in December 2019 so the similarities between those scenes and the worst but sadly widespread reactions to the Covid-19 pandemic are all a coincidence, but what an amazing coincidence it was.
While Japan did many things right and lessened the impact of the coronavirus, too many people failed to isolate and take the problem more seriously. That’s why it feels so good to hear Nakamura’s character attack those attitudes, yelling at people about their selfishness and their almost magical-thinking belief that they could never be harmed because… well, just because. The movie doesn’t get everything right, but these scenes alone make it worth a watch. Here are more reasons to check out Silent Tokyo:
This will be a slight spoiler but the explosion of Shibuya in the movie is simply amazing. It’s not comically exaggerated but you really feel its impact on the people on the ground, from the details given to the heat and the shockwave hitting them, to the flying shrapnel, the confusion, the chaos, the lost limbs, and the resulting post-traumatic stress. It’s probably one of the best Japanese action scenes of 2020. Also, the detective character played by Hidetoshi Nishijima (Samurai’s Promise, Poison Berry in My Brain, CUT) is kind of cliché but also tons of fun. With their help, Silent Tokyo manages to rise above the limitations of its source material to become an enjoyable, accidentally-relevant thriller that will undoubtedly end up on many people’s “Best of 2020” lists. Check it out if you get the chance.
- Japanese title: サイレント・トーキョー
- Based on: The novel “And So This Is Xmas” by Takehiko Hata (秦建日子)
- Director: Takafumi Hatano (波多野貴文)
- Cast: Yuriko Ishida (石田ゆり子), Hidetoshi Nishijima (西島秀俊), Tomoya Nakamura (中村倫也), Alice Hirose (広瀬アリス), Kai Inowaki (井之脇海)
- Official Website: silent-tokyo.com
Silent Tokyo is currently being screened in theaters across Japan.