Itsumi shiraishi is dead, pushed to her demise from the top of a school building to the flowerbed below. In her hands she holds a lily, the only clue to the unknown assailant. Determined to unmask the killer amongst themselves, the members of her elite literature club meet at the dead of night to present their versions of events. But who is the killer? Is it Mirei Nitani, the scholarship student with debts? Shiyo Takaoka, the friend sleeping with her father? Maybe it’s Diana Decheba, a Bulgarian student with a dark secret? Or it could even be Akane Kominami, whose family restaurant burned in a mystery fire.
Each has their suspicions, their own take on what led to their senior’s untimely death, and in an elaborate secret gathering they divulge who they think did the deed as their de facto leader, Sayuri Sumikawa, goads them on. Through their stories we are thrown into their intimate world, where the elite spend their days lounging around the library eating cakes, translating classic literature, and apparently scheming to get rid of Itsumi. The days leading up to her death are fraught with peril, betrayals, and potential poisoning. Each story proves to be more scandalous than the last, until the deceased does one better and her own version of events is put on the table.
Visually speaking, Dark Maidens is a sight to behold. The world that these girls inhabit is pretty and inviting, and the illustrative way they present their tales immediately sucks the viewer in. This is thanks, especially, to the performances from the lead actresses. They share an strong, immediately obvious, bond, and they are able to lift their performances higher as their character’s try desperately to tear each other down. It’s through them that we really get captivated by the story, as their emotional depictions of the characters create deep and meaningful relationships that make this coming-of-age narrative stand out.
Filled with exciting twists and turns, Saiji Yakumo approaches the film with an artistic eye that brings the characters to life with ease. The lead actors also bring a bright energy to their performances, demanding attention as soon as they step out on screen. While this is the case, though, it is also true that the film does not really bring anything new to the murder mystery genre. It is intense, that can’t be denied, but it’s easy to stay three steps ahead of the plot before the ‘twists’ are revealed, and this dampens the overall effect of the narrative. Given it’s based on a novel perhaps the film’s predictability can be forgiven, but the fact that the film plays out like an over-dramatic soap opera doesn’t give it the chance to stand out in the way it could have been.
The Dark Maidens is being screened across the UK as part of the Japan Foundation’s Touring Film Programme. For more information on cities and dates, go to their website.
Director: Saiji Yakumo
Release: 6 February 2018 (Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme)
Format: Theatrical Release
Age Rating: 15
Read more of our JFTFP coverage:
- Sword of the Stranger REVIEW
- Sing My Life REVIEW
- Kosuke Mukai – Exclusive Interview
- Mumon: The Land of Stealth REVIEW
- Gukoroku – Traces of Sin REVIEW