By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)
The detective is back, and along with his unflappable partner Takada, become entangled in a new mystery that will threaten their lives on several occasions.
The dogged investigator (again played by Yo Oizumi) still doesn’t have a mobile phone, so his office remains a bar in the red light district of Sapporo, Hokkaido. The plot initially centres around Masako (Gori), a transgender who works at a local club, and is an avid fan of magic tricks. Practising on a regular basis, Masako ends up performing at the club, and when the detective suggests that she enter a national TV contest, the reluctant Masako says yes. Performing with gusto, the talented magician wins, with friends organising a celebration at her place of work. Everyone is shocked when Masako is found murdered two days later.
The detective, who is getting over an all-too-brief romance, is determined to find out why Masako was killed, but when no-one around him is prepared to talk, he starts to suspect a conspiracy, one that may involve local politician Tochiwaki (Atsuro Watabe). He is unexpectedly aided by Yumiko (Machiko Ono), a renowned violinist who wants to track down the murderer of her number one fan. Helping out as usual is Takada (Ryuhei Matsuda), who is just as laid back as before, and whose car remains a temperamental liability.
Detective in the Bar gloriously expands upon the universe laid down in Phone Call to the Bar, with the lead duo’s quirks and banter a joy to behold. They are better connected to their surrounding environment this time around, and the diverse range of characters gives the story added flavour and punch. While certain humour may offend some, there is a comforting openness to an alternative culture that is quite affecting, something unusual for Japanese cinema (the recent Close-Knit is another marvellous example). The transgender community come across as real people, not mere stereotypes, and the prejudices against them are handled with intelligence and care. The bonding that occurs between different lifestyles should be applauded.
The mystery itself is also more intricate and harder to pin down, with every twist and turn always feeling organically part of the unfolding story. While a little more dramatic this time, there is still a notably playful nature to proceedings, and returning director Hajime Hashimoto, and writers Ryota Kosawa and Yasushi Suto, once more skilfully work the material between the comedic and the serious.
As before, performances are splendid, with Oizumi and Matsuda reprising their roles with tremendous expertise, deftly playing off each other throughout, turning a number of confrontational scenes into outright hilarity (one fight scene seems like it could take place in a 70’s Sonny Chiba film). Ono, who has appeared in some excellent movies such as Too Young to Die, Being Good, The Apology King, and Funky Forest: The First Contact, excels as Yumiko, and the chemistry between her, Matsuda, and Oizumi is unmistakable, while Gori (Memories of Matsuko / Sing, Salmon, Sing) and Yutaka Matsushige (back as Aida), likewise offer fine support.
For those who enjoyed Phone Call to the Bar, Detective in the Bar will deliver many rewards, and the mix of comedy, mystery, and drama results in an engaging effort that shows the detective movie is far from dead. Personally, I am very much looking forward to the latest (and possibly final) instalment, Last Shot in the Bar (due out December 2017 in Japanese theatres), which will hopefully see this immensely likeable duo go out with a bang.