See also: A guide to the Asian Film Festival.
Last night marked the opening of the Asian Film Festival of Dallas, which has showcased films from China, Japan, Korea and the rest of Asia for 11 years. While it's becoming harder for Asian films to find success in the states in an era when everything finds its way to the internet, the AFFD has served as a strong bastion for fans of the genre.
Leading off the festival at the Magnolia this year was Ace Attorney, by veteran director Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer, Graduation, and 13 Samurai).
Based on the popular Capcom franchise of the same name, Ace Attorney depicts a futuristic world where rampant crime has forced the justice system to limit trials to three days. In high-tech courtrooms filled with holographic displays, lawyers duke it out against each other in legal duels to prove the innocence or guilt of the accused before a rabid, ticket-buying audience.
Phoenix Wright, a rookie defense lawyer, finds himself caught in a legal conspiracy that's been in the making for over a decade. As Wright makes a name for himself as a successful lawyer, he quickly finds out that many of his cases tie together into something much bigger.
While Takashi Miike may be best known for gore-fest films like Ichi the Killer, Ace Attorney shows a different side of the director, one that's not well represented in the states. In his native Japan, Miike has proven his versatility by directing more than 70 films ranging from drama to the downright goofy and weird.
Ace Attorney rides the fine line between those two, stylistically feeling closer to 2009's Yatterman than most of his other films. The courtroom scenes in the film are tense, and there is a certain sense of drama to them. Yet they almost seem to step out of a Saturday morning cartoon.
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Miike's strength as a director, in all of the genres he chooses to explore, is giving his viewers visual overload. With Ichi and Audition, Miike was able to pull horror and gore with enough fervor that it was more than many could stomach (quite literally; several film festivals handed out barf bags for his shows). In Ace Attorney, this energy is channeled into making the futuristic courtroom duels and wacky characters as over the top as possible. Only in this film will you see a verdict handed down accompanied by confetti.
While it succeeds on its visuals, Ace Attorney comes up short in a few places. For those unfamiliar with the game series, parts of the film might not seem to stand up to a thorough investigation. Additionally, the scenes outside of the courtroom brawls seem to drag out and lack the flashiness of Miike's visuals (this is sadly faithful to the source material).
Final verdict? Ace Attorney plays to Miike's strengths as a visual storyteller, and gives him access to special effects to make it all that much sweeter.
Ace Attorney will conclude the festival with a second showing on Thursday, July 19 at 9:30 p.m. at the Magnolia.