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The Devil’s Path – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Justice is often a notion that is plagued by a multitude of interpretations that range from acts of forgiveness to that of the most heinous displays of revengeful violence, in turn perhaps being one of the most ambiguous elements of human psychology. But what if in our own pursuit of exacting justice that we unwillingly succumb to the emotional bearings of viewing such instances of injustice countless times over? Do we lose ourselves within our own self-interpretative analysis of morality? It is this debatable notion of justice that remains a focal for Shiraishi Kazuya’s The Devil’s Path, a film that explores some rather expansive themes such as atonement and the necessity to see retribution come about at any expense – but does it explore such thematic endeavors in a sincere fashion considering the weight of its material?

Based upon the novel titled Evil: A Death Row Prisoner’s Accusation, The Devil’s Path works more appropriately as a psychological exploration on retribution as envisioned through an intense relationship between magazine reporter Fujii, played here by the talented Takayuki Yamada, and a death row inmate by the name of Sudo, played here by Pierre Taki, that unfortunately coincides through a rather conventional crime drama. For a significant part of its running time, the film adheres to establishing a murder mystery that offers very little in regards to any sense of suspense, removing much, if not all of it, during the film’s trudging midpoint arc. The uneven pacing is the film’s most detrimental element, with a rather tension filled first half that is brought down by a plodding final half that unapologetically resolves all of the pretext for Sudo – and other involved members – violently despicable crimes. It invalidates much of the escalating mystery that was garnered towards the beginning of the film, only to later ease into a rather predictable conclusion that removes practically all emotional breadth it was initially striving for.

Despite these narrative setbacks though, Fujii and Sudo’s unsteady relationship subtly expresses much more about the ideals behind exacting justice than what the overall narrative has to say about it. Kazuya’s presents the film through an ashen exterior, offering up a dark tone that quite easily reflects that of the indeterminate nature of the film’s themes. Some of the most intense and interesting scenes derive from Fujii’s visits to Sudo in prison, with Fujii eagerly attempting to figure out the massive puzzle that Sudo has laid out in front of him, all in order to bring about the justice that he initially believes Sudo so vehemently deserves. The film handles Fujii’s investigatory as an increasingly obsessive component of his own life, with his continued investigation into Sudo’s past blurring with that of his own emotional languishing surrounding his personal life. We slowly begin to see him descend unto something quite unlike a journalistic reporter by the film’s end, with him appearing more as a zealous proponent of righteousness at the expense of his own psychological state of wellbeing.

The dichotomy of interpretive justice conveyed between that of Fujii and Sudo is the film’s primary strength though, with the character interactions providing an ever increasing view into how justice can be reshaped and fashioned to one’s own personal bidding rather than being conducive through any plausible matter. When a surprising revelation is unveiled towards the film’s conclusion regarding Sudo’s own understanding of what justice is when fully realized, it presents Fujii in a rather difficulty position of having to steadily reexamine his own comprehensive understanding of justice and how such ideologies can be acted upon in the most selfish of ways. The film’s final moments is a testament to this as well, introducing a sense of tragic irony that certainly delivers on part of Fujii and his perceivingly heroic actions throughout the narrative.

As a film dealing with the application of justice, The Devil’s Path offers a rather traditional narrative that does not attempt to be anything more than it is. Other films have handled similar material in a much more creative and explicit matter -Tetsuya Nakashima’s Confessions (2010), for example – with the aforementioned film better addressing many of the themes as seen here. As a character study though, The Devil’s Path fares much better overall, especially in regards to Fujii and his deteriorating mentality as he slowly becomes awash in self doubt over resolving Sudo’s tales of murder. Questioning his own pursuit of absolute justice, the film succeeds in traversing a rather difficult thematic topic with an authentic sense of ambiguity that does not cheapen the intelligence of the viewing audience, never leaving one with an absolute solution answer towards what ultimate justice truly entails. The Devil’s Path is ultimately a film that has many shortcomings, but it is also one that genuinely is not afraid to explore one of the most contested elements of human understanding.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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