Review by Jen Wang
Ace Attorney (Gyakuten Saiban in Japanese) takes place in the “near future”, in which people have anime hair and punny names. Courtrooms employ holographic technology that looks like it came from Stark Industries, and cases must be settled in three days in a reality TV-like format. Phoenix Wright (Hiroki Narimiya) is a rookie defense attorney who finds himself entangled in two big cases. The first deals with the murder of his mentor while the second has him defending Miles Edgeworth (Saitoh Takumi), a prosecutor whose ruthless tactics have won him admiration but not a lot of allies.
The plot tries to accomplish a lot, maybe a little too much. Although the minor events are connected to the main plot, some of the side scenes, as funny as they were, took away from the sense of urgency that the new trial system should bring. Wright’s personal growth also isn’t very evident, but he does gain more confident as a litigator by the end. The more interesting development is Edgeworth who suddenly finds himself on the other side of the courtroom. The false accusation and hidden truths from his past have him reevaluating his methods.
Narimiya’s exaggerated facial expressions and gestures are perfect for the fervent Wright. Mirai Kiritani does her best to give Maya Fey, the sister of Wright’s mentor and a medium who helps out, as much passion, but the character comes across as little more than a cute sidekick. As Wright’s rival, Saitoh exhibits a cool arrogance with a hint of foppishness (okay, a lot of foppishness when you consider how natural he looks in his purple suit). His expressions are subtle, making his interaction with Narimiya interesting to watch. Both actors deliver intensity in one of the barest settings: a dark interrogation room. However, they are at their best when facing off in the courtroom, and it’s worth staying through the credits to see them duke it out some more.
The Phoenix Wright video games have a reputation of being borderline ridiculous, and Takashi Miike’s adaptation remains true to that. The trial in Legally Blonde the Musical is more realistic than the ones here, but the cartoony elements brighten up the often dreary settings of Ace Attorney and make the film really fun to watch. Miike never lets viewers forget the gravity of the crimes though. There are truly heart-breaking revelations, and the grisliness of a couple scenes evoke his more infamous works, Audition and Ichi the Killer. Past the flash and comedy is the heart of Ace Attorney: one man’s quest for justice—and it’s one hell of a journey.
Recommendation: It helps to be familiar with the games to understand the gags, but as long as you remain open-minded about the over-the-top antics, the movie will be very entertaining.