“The Snow White Murder Case” – 2014 NYAFF & Japan Cuts Review

Solving a crime in the day and age of social media, message boards and mobile phones is made all the more difficult with public speculation interfering with law enforcement, and speed triumphing over accuracy on 24/7 news channels.  Yoshihiro Nakamura admirably tries to tackle these issues – along with the perils of workplace politics, psychological abuse and gender dynamics – in his whodunit mystery, “The Snow White Murder Case” (白ゆき姫殺人事件).  While a run time of 126 minutes could have provided the space to construct a complicated and suspenseful narrative, the film ultimately suffers from uneven pacing and too many shifts in character perspectives.

Adapted from the novel Shiro Yuki Hime Satsujin Jiken by female author Kanae Minato, “The Snow White Murder Case” begins with the torching of a beautiful woman in the woods.  Already appearing to have been stabbed to death, gossip runs rampant on Twitter before local news stations report on the scene.  A lazy part-time employee at one of those stations, Yuji Akahoshi (Go Ayano), prefers to spend his work hours posting short ramen restaurant reviews on Twitter until his former university classmate, Risako Kano (Misako Renbutsu), calls him with a scoop on the case.  The victim’s identity is quickly revealed as Noriko Miki (played by Nanao in her first film role), a young cosmetics company employee who happens to be Risako’s colleague as well as the colleague of the main suspect, Miki Shirono (Mao Inoue).  Yuji, accustomed to smacking his lips over bowls of soup noodles now see a more appetizing conquest: breaking a news story and attaining the recognition of his bosses.  Vanity, however, plays a role in social media at times, and Yuji’s lack of discretion leads to some reckless online disclosures before information is verified.

Those facts comprise just the beginning of a rather circuitous path to finding the murderer.  As more characters are introduced, more details about their professional and personal relationships with the main players are revealed.  But instead of fully embracing the perspective of, for example, Yuji trying to piece facts together, or daring the audience to guess along with those anonymous persons hiding behind Twitter handles, instead the film allows each character to tell his or her story in full, sometimes resulting in lengthy monologues.  A constant shift between the real-time nature of social media and the employment of flashbacks proves to be laborious, and even makes the viewer forget that a murder investigation is ongoing.  By the time the identity of the murderer is revealed, the film feels more like a meandering case study of complicated personal histories and relationships rather than a gripping suspense.  While this approach could work in written format, in “The Snow White Murder Case,” it merely results in visual superfluousness.

Co-presented by the New York Asian Film Festival and Japan Cuts, “The Snow White Murder Case” screens at the Japan Society on Fri., July 11, at 6 p.m.  Tickets can be purchased at japansociety.org.