Review: 'Laplace's Witch' disappoints with unconvincing performances

Marcus Goh
PHOTO: Encore Films

A well-written mystery movie will always leave just enough hints for the viewers to come to the correct answer, so that the audiences are able to solve the crime alongside the protagonists. Sometimes, viewers are even able to solve the mystery ahead of the protagonist, which awards them a sense of achievement.

There’s absolutely none of that in “Laplace’s Witch”. Based on the 2015 novel of the same name, this Japanese crime thriller sees an “impossible” crime being committed, with an equally “impossible” explanation behind it. While it first seems like a mathematical quandary, with the concept of Laplace’s demon being used as an analogy, the crime is eventually revealed to be the result of a deus ex machina, contrived circumstances, and outlandish elements.

The huge problem with “Laplace’s Witch” is that there’s no storytelling whatsoever. Each scene is made up of copious exposition dumps, with absolutely no foreshadowing or setup of what is to happen next. Things happen because the plot dictates it to be so, rather than through the effort of the characters. The mystery is solved because of a convoluted explanation that’s provided to you, with no prior indication that any of this might have been the case.

PHOTO: Encore Films

Perhaps the novel told it better with words, but something was lost when the story made its transition to the silver screen. Instead of the meaningful character-driven scenes and touching emotional drama that is the hallmark of Japanese dramas, the story is made up of a series of disjointed spectacles that don’t actually make sense when one stops to think about it. Stylistically, the plot almost feels Korean in nature, which emphasises short, immediate gratification rather than coherence, logic and genuine emotion.

PHOTO: Encore Films

The terrible plot is hampered by an unconvincing, uncharismatic protagonist — the slack-jawed Professor Shusuke Aoe (Sho Sakurai), who’s supposed to be a geochemistry genius. Unfortunately, there’s no air of brilliance around the professor. Neither is there any air of compassion. It seems like he’s just jerked around from scene to scene by police officers, other super-geniuses and strange chase sequences, rather than truly investigating the chase. Sakurai’s performance is bland and uninspiring, to the point that even he looks bored at the character he’s playing.

Then there are the two supposed super-geniuses, Madoka Uhara (Suzu Hirose) and Kento Amakasu (Sota Fukushi), who don’t feel like they’re particularly intelligent, observant, or insightful at all. They’re good-looking, but they’re just there to deliver lines. There’s hardly any acting involved in their performances, which means that the three main characters are just coasting through the film, spouting whatever the script has dictated of them.

PHOTO: Encore Films

That’s what makes “Laplace’s Witch” so disappointing. You’d expect a good story and a battle of wits between supposedly great intellects, but what results is a poor adaptation of what should have been a thrilling mystery movie. The supporting cast fares admirably well in their roles, and they could be said to be the only saving grace of the film.

For a film that requires so much suspension of disbelief by the audience, it had to be grounded in good acting and a solid story. Without these two pillars, “Laplace’s Witch” feels like a Korean film adaptation, rather than a Japanese one.

PHOTO: Encore Films

Should you watch this if it’s free? If you like the cast.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? No.

Score: 2.0/5

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 116 minutes

“Laplace’s Witch” is a Japanese thriller that’s based on the novel of the same name.

The film sees a geochemistry professor investigating a pair of bizarre murders that seem to defy explanation. He is aided by a mysterious girl who seems to have virtually supernatural abilities of deduction, and together they unravel a conspiracy that is larger than either of them could have imagined.

“Laplace’s Witch” is directed by Takashi Miike and written by Hiroyuki Yatsu. It stars Sho Sakurai (Shusuke Aoe), Suzu Hirose (Madoka Uhara), Sota Fukushi (Kento Amakasu), Hiroshi Tamaki (Yuji Nakoaka), Etsushi Toyokawa (Saisei Amakasu), and Lily Franky (Zentaro Uhara).

“Laplace’s Witch” opened in cinemas:
– 7 June, 2018 (Singapore)

Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter, having written for popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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