National award winner Raju Murugan has had an interesting career trajectory. Debuting with the slightly cloying 2014 romantic drama ‘Cuckoo,’ he directed the lauded ‘Joker’ in 2016, which won him praise and awards. His follow-up, 2020’s ‘Gypsy,’ was not received as well, however. His contribution to the ‘Modern Love: Chennai’ anthology, ‘Lalagunda Bommaigal,’ despite being one of his better efforts, was overlooked. And now his latest release, ‘Japan’ starring Karthi in the titular role, sees Murugan venturing into new territories, yet holding onto some of the same stylistic threads.
The film follows Japan, a notorious and eccentric professional burglar whose latest job has roped him into big trouble. Karthi mostly puts in a solid performance (the character’s muffled voice slips on a few occasions). Sunil, who has been a strong recent addition to Tamil cinema, played his part well too. Jithan Ramesh, who seems to be on his way to a comeback, is almost unrecognisable in his role. Most of the supporting cast played their roles well.
The film is heavily satirical, zoning mostly on cinema. The ‘hero entry’ scene is a complete surprise and a welcome change from the director. The humour is more often a hit than a miss. Ravi Varman’s cinematography serves the film well, and the narrative’s pace takes its time, in comparison to many similar films which inundate their audience with as much information as quickly as possible. Karthi is more than able to bring this eccentricity to life and carry the film. The film starts off promisingly however, its core problems derail this.
The main issue with ‘Japan’ is its tone. Murugan’s films usually centre around the lives of those less financially fortunate. This in itself is not an issue, as many Tamil directors focus on societal problems of the poor. However, Murugan’s style of handling this subject matter usually teeters into the realm of melodrama. This has been apparent from his first feature (and thankfully was less visible in ‘Lalagunda Bommaigal’). Murugan’s signature style has gradually become stale, and he seems to have a hard time letting these melodramatic tendencies go. The subplot involving the ‘drain sievers’ weighs the film down tremendously, and does not mesh well with the protagonist’s storyline.
GV Prakash Kumar’s score and soundtrack are not particularly memorable. The first single ‘Touching Touching’ manages to get away with its underwhelming composition thanks to plot conveniences.
Overall, what works best in ‘Japan’ are the moments where Raju Murugan dares to branch out into unexplored territories. An entire film of Tamil cinema satire (rather than the spoof template that the ‘Thamizh Padam’ films use) would have been something new for the industry. What keeps Murugan back is his insistence on ‘playing the hits,’ which slow the film down and are jarring. Raju Murugan certainly has the talent for filmmaking, but should look to take more creative risks.
Krishna's rating: 2 stars
Official trailer for film below.