Karthi in Japan
Karthi in JapanYouTube screengrab

Japan review: Karthi’s film is at best a poor parody of heist dramas

This heist drama has no thrills even when heavily guarded treasures are being stolen. There is little to redeem Japan despite Karthi’s inherent charm.
Japan (Tamil)(2 / 5)

When the audience sees Karthi for the first time in director Raju Murugan’s Japan, he is getting off a golden helicopter, followed by an entourage of women. Soon after, he is in a face-off with a police officer named Raja (Karthi). Raja has a bulletproof leather jacket while Japan, a notorious thief (also Karthi), can stop a mini-missile with his bare hands. Japan’s sidekick and a police constable die in the crossfire, but not before making corny jokes and putting on a skull cap to signify the latter’s religion. Before this reviewer could type down her critique into the mobile phone, it was revealed that this sequence was a movie directed by Japan, who wanted to chronicle his face-offs with the police. At this point, with a taste of Japan’s poor filmmaking skills, one would hope that the rest of the movie would be a saving grace. Dear reader, brace yourself.

Karthi’s Japan Muni is a menacing thief, infamous for his heists that follow a signature modus operandi. Except that there are no thrills or elaborate plans even when heavily guarded treasures are being stolen. The film quickly loses the plot and becomes a cat-and-mouse chase between two police teams trying to capture Japan. Multiple characters like politicians, jewellery shop owners, and actors are thrown in to create an elaborate mess. None of them are memorable except a rag picker (an excellent Sanal Aman) who gets caught in the maze. 

Even fights between the bad guys and the worse guys involving water guns, dynamite-laden palm fruits, and good old pistols are not exciting. Japan doesn’t forget to pack the trite ‘sentimental mother stereotype’ which evokes no emotion.

Karthi as Japan tries hard to be the ‘evil on the outside but has a heart of gold’ Robin Hood-esque thief, but it does not work. Perhaps, it has something to do with his unoriginal voice modulation, brought further down by poorly written one-liners taking digs at politicians, incumbent governments, and YouTube film reviewers, instead of tapping into his authentic, understated humour. One would hope for remnants of the loveable crook Rocket Raja Karthi played in Siruthai, but all we are left with is a stilted performance by an otherwise talented and versatile actor. 

As most commercial Tamil films replicate the formula of ‘bad guys + big guns + loud gunfights = box office hit’, interesting women characters have become extinct, so to speak. Japan is no exception. Anu Immanuel plays an actor named Sanju, who was introduced to the film world after Japan launched her in one of his movies. And because of this, she has signed her soul off to him and is willing to be sexually intimate even after he abducts her. Japan keeps claiming that Anu cheated him despite him showering her with only ‘punidha kaadhal’ (pure love), but we never see what transpired between the two. There are traces of the infamous ‘loosu ponnu’ in Sanju, but her screentime is so little that it is impossible to gauge whether she fits into the category or not. 

At this rate, Tamil cinema might need something more elaborate than the Bechdel test or the sexy lamp test to analyse the pitiful arcs of its women characters. 

There is little to redeem Japan despite Karthi’s inherent charm. The banter between Japan and Perinbam (Vagai Chandrasekhar) provides some comic relief in what is otherwise a dull film. A few of Japan’s quips are slightly more laughable than cringe. 

At its best, Japan feels like a poor parody of heist dramas. It would not come as a surprise if director Raju Murugan appears in an hour-long YouTube video, decoding Japan to explain why it is indeed a parody of another popular film where the hero hoards gold for his dead mother. Even then, the writing and screenplay make little sense.

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