Written and directed by: Raju Murugan
Cast: Karthi, Anu Emmanuel, Sunil, Vijay Milton
Runtime: 156 minutes
Available in: Theatres
There is this uncategorised, unofficial genre in every industry. Some call it “So bad, it’s good” which includes those films that are silly but watchable, while a few others term them “crap films” because they are extreme ones that test your patience. If Karthi’s films like Kaithi (2019) and Paruthiveeran (2007) enjoy the modern-day classic status, a few others like his Saguni fall in the “so bad, it’s good” category, whereas he also has his share of films like Alexpandian and All in All Azhagu Raja, that are downright unwatchable. Going by the trailer, you would’ve guessed that Japan is not going to enter the first category. But whether it remains a ridiculous film that you’re laughing at or one that forces you to walk out of the theatres mostly depends on how much of its goofiness you buy into.
When we are first introduced to Karthi’s Japan Muni, a thief who is searched by all the four southern states, we see him through a film within the film, where gold-coated helicopters and suitcases make rounds, and even the frames are completely yellow-tinted. In this film-within-the-film, we have Karthi playing dual roles; one is a thief and the other is a cop. While the cop spews punch dialogue and jumps on the car, breaking glasses, it reminds one of the cop Suriya played in Singam. Whereas the robber Karthi stylishly catches a fired bullet in his hand to protect himself. Raju Murugan smartly uses this narrative technique to spin spoof sequences of his own film and other mass commercial entertainers, while also setting the stage for how unabashedly over-the-top Japan is going to be.
In the actual film too, Raju treats his protagonist as a larger-than-life character who cannot be harmed even by bullets. In a scene, Karthi explains the reason behind his name; he will fight and rise above all obstacles like how Japan rose back after the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings. It gives you a phoenix-like powerful story for him, but it’s also ludicrous that he literally isn’t harmed by the explosions taking place around him. A cop tells us that Japan plunders all the wealth, and goes abroad to party. A part of this is true as he uses all his stolen wealth lavishly, making films based on his real stories, where he is all in all; director, actor, producer and everything else. When drunk, he becomes the Robin Hood of Tamil Nadu, giving jewels to everyone he meets on the road. But when we first see him for real, he is in a hospital waiting for a test report, and he has his issues to solve, including the typical “You too Brutus” problem of a gangster. It is interesting how the film portrays his exaggerated powers and unempathetic attitude but hardly tries to make its protagonist likeable.
When 200-crore worth of jewels are stolen in Coimbatore and evidence points to Japan, special teams are formed to hunt him down. Now, there are 30-40 cases filed against him in every state, but why is this particular case important? Because the jewellery store is co-owned by a Minister. Raju Murugan uses this angle to address the politics and exploitation at large, while not deviating too much from narrating Japan’s life. Parallely, we get to see how all of Japan’s actions and the pressure from power affect a common man, who doesn’t have the power, connection or money to fight back when he is blamed for wrongdoing.
Raju Murugan’s works are known for his dialogues, and Japan has plenty that generate laughs. There is a scene where Japan learns he is suffering from a major disease, and he sadly talks about Karma. He says, “Karma na enna nu theriyuma? nee vaazhkai la adichaa kosu elaam dinosaur ah maari vandhu thaakum.” Likewise, he manages to crack us up even during certain serious circumstances, like the one involving two state police groups fighting to apprehend Japan, while cops from a third state always arrive late on the scene, or when a terrifically staged bomb sequence backfires.
Many sequences fail to hold your attention because the plot runs into predictable spaces and the supporting characters are pushed to the background, leaving nothing concrete to hold on to. For instance, there are two major cops, played by Sunil and Vijay Milton, who are introduced as powerful people but their character gradually loses impact. Anu Emmanuel hardly gets any screen time; we never understand if she loves Japan or why she fears him. The film could have done away with the character because even in the little time she is present, she is left with no agency. Jithan Ramesh who is shown as a major figure in the second half also gets to do nothing substantial.
With no stakes left in the writing, Karthi is forced to do all the heavy lifting, and he does it effortlessly, be it in voice modulation, body language or the few times when Japan peels off his ego and lets us see him for who he is. The biggest win though is how the tonal shifts in the film mostly happen organically. While you are laughing at Karthi’s notorious actions, the scenes cut to the cops who are brutally attacking the common man, reminding us of the issue at hand. There is a long spoof sequence about cinema which also includes "2k kids" and "boomer" comments, and Japan suggesting Anirudh to compose music for his next film (because, why not), which is seamlessly merged into a quite serious climax, along with a social commentary on police brutality.
There is a one-line flashback Japan tells us earlier on. We get an elaborate detailing towards the climax in an inventive way, and Raju Murugan combines the emotions of his mother in one still — of the walls in his childhood home. Many sequences lack logic and the film has a wafer-thin plot line that further dilutes, but I still did find a lot to like about this film. There is only very little that separates a crap film and a silly fun film, and that experience is subjective. So at the end of the day, the question that we are left with is when you can watch it on OTT, should you spend extra money to watch a goofy film in a theatre that could easily go up in smoke?