Review: Thirty Lies or So

By kevin on September 24, 2006 at 10:18pm EDT

Thirty Lies or So Japanese movie trailer

I know the whole “suitcase full of cash”, double-cross caper flick has been done to death over the years—especially in Japanese cinema. It’s sort of a mainstay and at times these films can get so formulaic and tiring that they run the risk of turning people off to the genre forever. Thirty Lies or So definitely falls into the formulaic category, but it’s done so well that it more than makes up for that one sin. Featuring an all-star cast and a truly clever script, this is probably the one caper flick of the past few years I would suggest above all others I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a whole lot of ‘em).

The story revolves around a group of a group of swindlers who reunite to pull off one more caper involving sub-par down comforters, shoddy encyclopedias, and a down-right adorable panda suit. Unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent that things just aren’t the same as they once were. 3 years ago all their profits were stolen by one of their own team members. Their resident den-mother, Takarada (Miki Nakatani), is convinced a magician they let into their group named Imai (Anri Ban) was responsible for the betrayal but the men refuse to believe it, as they’re rather easily rendered goofy by Imai’s plentiful assets whenever she’s around. Thus, it’s no surprise that Takarada is a bit perturbed when Imai shows up on the train having been invited by their new chief, Kutsani (Seiichi Tanabe).

Originally Shikata (Kippei Shiina) was their chief and a highly-respected criminal, but due to the events of 3 years ago he’s become a shell of his former self. Having lost all his zeal, he now relegates himself to obsessively chomping on cough drops and making random sarcastic comments. The others don’t know quite what to make of his new persona and since Kutsani isn’t much of a chief Takarada’s new friend Yokoyama eventually takes over the leadership role.

Interestingly, for all the planning and scheming the audience is privy to in the first part of the movie we never get to see any of the actual scamming. Instead, the entire film takes place on the train that they’re traveling on beforehand and quickly flashes forward to the return trip. This allows the story to focus exclusively on the scammers and their feelings toward each other. Old grudges surface as it’s slowly revealed that “that thing from 3 years ago” was a little more than just a swindle gone wrong.

When the suitcase containing the team’s 70 million yen (about $660,000 USD) in takings turns up missing all the paranoia left over from the past comes flooding back and team members start to make accusations against one another. The suspects are numerous given the nefarious nature of the group so there’s no telling who’s responsible. Takarada takes it upon herself to hold things together because all she really cares about is keeping the team she loves from falling apart once again.

Thirty Lies or So is a rather complicated tale but information is disseminated in such a way that it never gets too confusing to follow (a pitfall all-too-common in this type of movie). It’s genuinely funny but not in an over-the-top exaggerated way (you’ll smile more than you’ll laugh). It survives more on modestly funny dialogue than any sort of sight gags and has an overall charm that just makes it a really enjoyable movie from beginning to end. The ensemble cast adds to this charm tremendously, especially Nakatani and the venerable Kippei Shiina in his role as the down-and-out Shikata.

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