4 out of 5
Directed by: Takashi Miike
During the post-exposure era when Miike – in the years leading up to the decline of V-Cinema in favor of blockbuster-structured flicks – started experimenting in mimicking genre (J-horror; art pieces), The Negotiator dropped in 2003 as a TV movie, based on a book. While ‘TV movie’ isn’t a genre, of course, Miike adopts a very clear, steady procedural style for his approach. And yet sneaked in there we do find his skill for cross-cutting sequences and mixing up timelines that vastly help to elevate an already interesting story into something with some emotion behind it, when it likely would have been played up for its twists otherwise.
Three motorcycle-helmeted thugs hold up a convenience store. When their ride breaks down, they take refuge in a nearby hospital, holding the staff and patients hostage. Hostage negotiator Ishida (Hiroshi Mikami) is called in, but he suggests he needs someone to balance him out as his wife is one of the hostages, suggesting Maiko Tohno (Mayu Tsuruta) – a Captain who’d been somewhat demoted to office work, and also rumored to be an ex-mistress of Ishida’s – as his backup. With the cops on the scene, Ishida and Tohno then go about bartering with the thugs. But since we start making good progress on hostage release and the perps’ escape by the film’s midway point, it’s easy to suspect there’s more going on here than we know, and indeed, we slowly start to find out some background that led up to this point…
If that initial setup seems a little long-winded, yes, it is: one of the main issues with Negotiator is that it doesn’t seem to necessitate all the focus its putting into the premise, or its characters. It’s betting on us staying around long enough to find out if there is more, because at the start – and again, bear in mind that Miike is playing it straight here, shooting with a fly-on-the-wall procedural style – it all seems very underwhelming. The Tohno / Ishida pairing is puzzling, because Tohno doesn’t seem as commanding as Ishida has played her up to be, and Ishida doesn’t really cede to her on any decision, which he’d suggested he would But we do hang in there, because it’s not boring, just not necessarily something requiring more than an hour episode of a regular cop show, and soon enough, we’re roped in to the intricacies of the negotiation tactics, and soon following, the first hints that there’s more than meets the eye going on. From here on out, the movie picks up immensely and keeps us on the hook, with Miike massaging the aforementioned style to include more of his own, which also helps to let some of his themes of family and legacy seep in as well.
When explanations arrive, they aren’t cheap, either in content or delivery. They’re not dumped on us as zingers, but rather delicately woven in, taking us a step at a time through the reveals, much as it stepped us through negotiations earlier on.
Reviews on this one don’t seem to be too favorable, as, on the surface, I agree it can seem rather mundane. But I think this stands out as a very polished Miike flick, and one that kind of points to how he would later learn to use the blockbuster film system to continue working on his own methods.