The Demon (February 4/05)
That The Demon becomes fairly effective in its last 45-minutes is essentially negated by the utterly interminable opening hour - which is exasperatingly slow-paced and ultimately pointless. Director Yoshitaro Nomura admittedly does an effective job of establishing the characters and their circumstances, but takes his time in getting things going - making it impossible for the audience to ever really connect to the material.
The film involves a woman named Kikuyo (Mayumi Ogawa) who has had three children with Sokichi (Ken Ogata) out of wedlock. Sokichi has, in the meantime, gotten married to another woman and started his own business. Kikuyo decides that she cannot care for the kids any longer, and brings them to live with Sokichi - something which angers Sokichi's current wife, Oume (Shima Iwashita). Oume makes no secret of her hatred for the youngsters, particularly since she's not even convinced they're Sokichi's.
The Demon initially feels like a Japanese riff on Kramer vs. Kramer, with Sokichi struggling to learn the day-to-day routines of his three children. But unlike that Hollywood melodrama, The Demon fails to engage the audience early on - with Nomura choosing instead to focus on the mundane events in Sokichi's existence. And because virtually every single aspect of the film is played so broadly - especially the performances - it's impossible to take this portion of the story seriously.
It certainly doesn't help that screenwriter Masato Ide (working from Seicho Matsumoto's novel) stretches the limits of credibility almost immediately, a problem that only gets worse as the film progresses. Though it's made fairly clear that Kikuyo is having trouble raising these three kids, it hardly seems likely that she would leave her children with a woman who openly despises them. Worse than that, Sokichi's actions in the film's latter half - evidently spurred on by his ridiculously evil wife - are far from believable (we've received no evidence that he's a sociopath, which is what he eventually becomes).
The bottom line is that The Demon is just dull, despite a storyline that becomes somewhat intriguing as it progresses.