“Strayer’s Chronicle” – 2015 Japan Cuts Film Review

In our pop culture saturated world the only thing more cliché than zombies are mutants as a metaphor for ethnic minorities, outcasts, weirdoes, homosexuals or another fill-in-the-blank group who doesn’t belong in mainstream society. And for a time that metaphor had a lot of gravitas when artists like Stan Lee created X-Men characters as fully fleshed individuals that had real human desires and weaknesses.

Several decades and copycats later, Japanese director Takahisa Zeze directs “Strayer’s Chronicle” (ストレイヤーズ・クロニクル, 2015), a story adapted from a novel by Takayoshi Honda, which features two groups of super-powered individuals that don’t do much of anything except fight one another or whine about how much fighting they have to do.

Having not read the source novel for the picture, I’m not sure what was translated from novel to film and what was the creation of screenwriter Kohei Kiyasu – one of the writers of the 2012 critically acclaimed hit “The Kirishima Thing” – but Zeze’s picture is a clunky mess. The film’s premise of two competing groups could have been interesting except for the fact that none of the super-powered characters in the picture is distinguishable from one another, they don’t talk or act in a believable way, and they have no discernible goals and objectives.

Cast as the de facto leader of the group of mutants created through stress experiments is Masaki Okada who plays Subaru, a young man whose vision allows him to see a few seconds into the future.  The purpose of Subaru and his group is unclear, but they work for a secret organization controlled by the mysterious Watase (Tsuyoshi Ihara) and seem to be tasked with doing the government’s dirty work. On the opposing team is Manabu (Shota Sometani), the leader of a team of mutants created through direct genetic manipulation. At one point they were also part of Watase’s secret organization, but Manabu and his friends ran away a long time ago. Though both groups have opposing philosophies, Subaru is all peace and love, and Manabu is about ensuring the safety and security of his mutant brethren, practically the same conflict that Professor Xavier and Magnet had in the X-Men comics.  The one thing that links both groups is that they all have short lifespans, a side effect apparently of being super-powered.

If this was too much information to digest, fear not because it’s constantly repeated to you through the dull exposition-ridden dialogue, and when the characters are not engaged in exposition dumping, they are moaning about how terrible it is to have to die so young. Sitting through the 126-minute runtime wouldn’t have been so excruciatingly bad though if any of these characters had some spark. What made the X-Men interesting were the back stories of each character and how every character often had goals that conflicted with the group’s. Yet of the 11 super-powered individuals, only Subaru and Manabu are somewhat fleshed out while the rest are relegated to being cardboard characters.

Zeze and his production team also do nothing in the way of world building. What makes sci-fi, fantasy or any genre rewatchable is the amount of detail is devoted to making the reality the characters inhabit come alive, but for a picture distributed by Warner Bros., none of the budget was seemingly spent on very much except for the chintzy CG.

However, the most troubling issue with “Strayer’s Chronicle” is the conflicting political messages in the film. The mutants are all hot-blooded young men and women who are mopey, directionless, and ultimately weak, a not too thinly veiled commentary on Japanese youth today. A prime example of this is the montage showing our heroes “training” for their next big confrontation with Manabu’s group: Subaru looks at fighting videos online, one guy eats curry rice and another does a couple of push-ups. Can’t these kids even be bothered to make a little more effort?

If that wasn’t bad enough, most of the adults in this picture – Watase and the men he commands – are cold, distant and obsessed with culling the weak and making a race of super-powered humans. These old dinosaurs are no match for the new crop of kids they helped bring into this world, but instead of aiding or stopping them, all they want to do is bring on the apocalypse so that only the stronger and newer generation of mutants can rise.  But for what purpose? Add to this the fact that the other bad guys in the film are foreigners, and Watase’s story about watching a forest fire in the U.S., and being told to ignore it, paralleled with his own wife’s suicide, and it’s uncertain whether or not this film is advocating for war, peace, genocide, nihilism, conservatism or libertinism.

Maybe it is wrong to ask a film made primarily to entertain to do something more than that, but “Strayer’s Chronicle” doesn’t even rise to the level of being interesting. It is an empty husk that has all the requisite parts of an entertaining comic book movie, yet none of those functions in the way they are supposed to.

The North American premiere of “Strayer’s Chronicle” takes place at the Japan Society in New York on July 19 at 3:30 p.m. as part of Japan Cuts 2015.  For ticket information, go to japansociety.org.  The film will be theatrically released in Japan on June 27.