Masked Ward (Kamen Byoto)
Review by David Cirone
Masked Ward is a thriller following young doctor Shugo Hayami (Kentaro Sakaguchi) as he navigates a hostage situation at a small nursing hospital. Following a violent convenience store robbery, a suspect wearing a clown mask enters the facility and hold the small staff at gunpoint. He demands that Hayami fix up Hitomi (Mei Nagano), a gunshot victim who was grazed by a bullet during the the masked man’s escape.
Scared to hit the streets as police search the area, the masked man locks the staff inside and threatens to harm the helpless patients unless everyone cooperates. As the tense situation escalates, Hayami begins to piece together clues that the masked man has a secret motive for extending his time at this hospital where all the patients are mysteriously nameless and without family.
Directed by Hisashi Kimura, Masked Ward puts a lot of effort into signaling the moments where there should be suspense — using a scratchy soundtrack and quick-flash editing — but there’s no substance to back it up. The violent moments are telegraphed and melodramatic, and the masked man’s threats are undercut time and time again by unbelievable behavior. The hostages are left alone for long periods of time as the masked man wanders the hospital, just long enough for Hayami to notice a clue here and there, aided by an obviously over-helpful Hitomi.
If you think there’s more going on than meets the eye, you’re right — and that’s a feeling you’ll get early and often. The film goes out of it way to highlight the moments you should pay attention to (“Ah! This will be a clue you’ll have to remember later.”), as if impressed by its own cleverness. The flatly-written dialogue doesn’t help either, and only Sakaguchi seems to have the skill to rise above it to deliver honest emotion.
The “villain” brings all the standard tics — a confusing mask, an electronically disguised voice, and a repeated gun tap to let everybody know when the “plan” isn’t going his way. The second act reveal is disappointing, and the confrontations and confessions that follow are wildly contradictory.
One saving grace is the late appearance of Kosuke Suzuki as a police investigator. No stranger to hospitals (Doctor X) or masked maniacs (Liar Game), he brings a fresh energy to his few moments on screen, and I wish he’d been involved much more.
Masked Ward – Trailer
Streaming free in the U.S. as part of the 2022 Japanese Film Festival Online
February 14-27, 2022
*please see website for availability in your country
Official website: https://wwws.warnerbros.co.jp/kamen-byoto.jp/