‘Shield of Straw’ opens with a lingering close up of a tiny patent leather shoe, the sort that a little girl might wear for her first day at school. It’s soaked in blood and lies a little way from the corpse of its owner, seven-year-old Chika, whose murder is the jumping off point for this baggy revenge thriller consisting of short violent set pieces interspersed with far too many talky debates about the morality of protecting a killer. It represents no real departure, thematically, for provocative Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, who brought us the excellent ‘Audition’ (1999) and a visceral adaptation of Hideo Yamamoto's manga ‘Ichi The Killer’ (2001). Unfortunately, it's not his best.
Based on a novel by Kazuhiro Kiuchi, the plot is simple and pulpy: Chika's rich grandfather publicly offers a billion zen to whoever kills the 29-year-old child-killer responsible for her murder (baby-faced Tatsuya Fujiwara, familiar from the ‘Battle Royale’ and ‘Death Note’ franchises). Realising the game is up, he turns himself into the police. Five dedicated officers, including J-horror stalwart Nanako Matsushima (‘Ring’, ‘Ring 2’) are handed the unenviable task of transporting him cross-country to face state-sanctioned justice in Tokyo; placing themselves in the crosshairs of various wannabe bounty hunters. Think ‘16 Blocks’ set over hundreds of miles.
Set pieces include a kamikaze truck full of nitroglycerin, which certainly lights up the screen, but there is not as much ingenuity or inventiveness in the action sequences as you'd hope. Writer Tamio Hayashi’s script is rather poorly served by English subtitles that render his dialogue so indifferently that it's impossible to imagine they represent a good translation of the original script. At one point, the supposedly sad news of a character’s emotional death is related with the line: ‘She croaked.’ That’s just one of many tonally inappropriate translations that you’d hope will be fixed for the UK release of this should-be-more-thrilling thriller.