2022 Fantasia Fest: Shinzo Katayama’s ‘Missing’ is not the revenge-thriller you think it is
Do you ever get roped into a film with certain expectations about what you’re going to see… only to be met with something completely different? I would safely file Japanese director Shinzo Katayama’s Missing under that niche marketing category. At first glance, it’s a film that promises a paint-by-numbers revenge thriller given its fairly generic description and vague trailer. But Missing delivers much more than that.
On the surface, yes, Missing is exactly what its tagline is – a film about a daughter who is searching for her deadbeat father. Kaede, a young girl who is forced to be mature beyond her years due to the absence of her mother, is our protagonist. Her father, Santoshi (Jiro Sato)… is kind of just coasting along. In the very first scene of the film, he’s caught stealing from a grocery store (after being short a few cents) and has to get bailed out by his worried daughter. He works a very menial construction job, and is presumably debt-ridden. But one thing that’s clear is that their father-daughter bond is strong, as shown by the moments when the two are alone with each other. They are all each other has.
But when Santoshi believes he sees a serial killer on the train and then a poster advertising his high bounty, the hunt is on. He hints to his daughter that it would be nice to get that reward money, and the subject is dropped entirely from their conversation. The following morning, Kaede wakes up to find her father gone. It’s up to Kaede to find her father, and save him from possibly becoming another victim to his own terrible choices.
While a plot like that might invite comparisons to a reverse-Taken situation, Missing doesn’t have much in common with it outside of the general plotline. Once she’s on her own, Kaede tries her best to make do with what she has, but she’s never quite taken seriously. In fact, she’s almost completely helpless. Instead of rallying an entire community together to help her find her father, she gets hindered by the very people you would expect to be there for her. Her homeroom teacher tries to send her to a convent instead of looking after her. The police, when approached, tell her to give up. Her new boyfriend (who she really doesn’t seem to like) tells her that he won’t help her unless she shows him her breasts. Others still shrug her off, ignoring or walking over her completely. In another type of movie, you might expect Kaede to start kicking down doors or beating people up in order to find her father, but she’s largely powerless in her quest. She is, after all, just a normal teenage girl.
But somewhere along the way, the film makes a surprising shift, shuffling the timeline of the film to reframe its events from different perspectives. The film suddenly becomes more dark and brutal, instead focusing on contentious topics like euthanasia and brushing off the straightforward storyline of the beginning. From the middle of the film onwards, Kaede’s struggles fade into the background as a new narrative is spun. It would be a disservice to the film to explain what happens, but trust me when I say it’s more exciting than what happened to Kaede.
In that sense, the film does what Naomi Kawase’s True Mothers did – promise one thing and deliver another, switching plotlines completely and focusing on a different character’s perspective. From the switch onwards, there’s a much more fierce and explicit type of revenge going on, starkly contrasting the powerless attempts of Kaede to find justice. That element is anchored by the blank-faced, psychotic performance of Hiroya Shimizu and Jiro Sato’s bumbling father, and it’s where Missing truly delivers the heart-pounding revenge that it promises.
It’s a film that’ll make you think about the extremes of what it’s suggesting, and perhaps make you question your stances on the issues they present as well. Katayama then ends the film returning to Kaede’s story, cleverly wrapping up a possibly fractured story into one with a very contemplative long take.
Tragic, brutal, and haunting, Missing pulls a forgivable bait-and-switch, turning a contentious subject matter into a thriller that’ll keep you guessing at every turn.
Rating: 4 / 5
This film was reviewed via a digital screener as part of the virtual 2022 Fantasia Film Festival by Li-Wei Chu.
Li-Wei Chu is the chief editor of From the Intercom. When he’s not editing drafts and searching for new artists to cover for the website, he loves watching cult films, cooking, and listening to his ever-growing collection of vinyl records. You can follow him on LetterBoxd and make fun of his taste in movies here!