A murderer on the loose, a missing father, and a daughter in search of answers. Missing (org. title: Sagasu) starts off like any other Japanese thriller and fools us well in that sense. However, it is one of those films that has much more to it than its face value.
In the story, a girl lives alone with her father who claims to have seen a serial killer wanted by the authorities. Because she already knows her father very well, she doesn't give much importance to the situation; she assumes that he's making it up. The next morning, her father disappears and all the clues seem to suggest that he was right about the presence of the unnamed killer.
Missing's first act is not the most effective. We waste a lot of time in the same, redundant situations that require much suspension of disbelief, and the film seems to be heading toward trivial development and outcome. However, near the end of the introductory act, everything changes.
The film plays with its structure and goes back in time to shuffle our heads and add a panoply of essential information not only to unravel the mystery, but also to reinforce that the film is, in addition to a serial killer thriller, something much more profound. It comments on family relationships, trauma, and forgiveness. At one point, the search for the resolution of the mystery perfectly links with a certain deep character’s actions and motivations, twisting into something much more confrontational and grey in its morality. Is there an end that can justify all means? Is it possible to clear out the cobwebs without getting our hands dirty?
Without spoiling anything, the final scene involving two people and a ping pong table is one of the simplest and most fascinating scenes I have seen put into practice in recent years. There is humanity, there is relatability, and there is feeling. Confidence? Distrust? Regret? A little bit of everything. After all, this is what life requires. We cannot be skeptical about everything in order to enjoy the pleasures of this life, but we cannot be so trusting as to believe the best in people when they are setting us up for disappointment.
Shinzo Katayama's direction is meticulous and sometimes sassy in the way he presents us with unexpected and absurd situations. This is not that surprising because, although Missing is only his second feature film, Katayama was the assistant director in Bong Joon-ho’s Mother, learning from the best to merge the absurd with the humane.
The editing is another highlight in a film that would lose quite a bit if it had a traditional structure. Think about Memento or Rashomon, films that would not nearly be as interesting without their chronological toying. Missing is just like that, playing masterfully with what is known and what is secret.
The last critical piece is the acting. Aoi Ito is an excellent surprise in the role of Kaede, who is a daughter and friend, but also a very persistent and intelligent human being. She is almost always one step ahead of everything and everyone, and her expressiveness indicates every revelation. After all, being a child is one of the few experiences that connect us all. The presumed serial killer and Kaede's father are two other very well-constructed characters. Hiroya Shimizu convinces in a role as cold as it is enigmatic and the veteran Jirô Satô demonstrates a lot of versatility, being easy to connect with even when his actions are deplorable.
Missing is a thriller with many layers. I began with doubt, but it reassured me with its structure and development, complete with a powerful final act that reflects on the many difficult choices we are forced to make to spare our loved ones.