The Snow White Murder Case (Japan, 2014) [Japan Cuts/NYAFF 2014)

Directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura and written by Tamio Hayashi, The Snow White Murder Case is a crime thriller based on a novel by Kanae Minato.

The film opens with the murder of Noriko Miki (Nanao), an employee of a cosmetics company that specializes in making Snow White soap—thus the name given to the case by the media. Yuji Akahoshi (Go Ayano) is a lowly cameraman doing criminal reenactments for a TV news station who gets a phone call from Risako (Misako Renbustsu), an old college friend who knows the victim. Seeing this as his big break, Yuji interviews Risako and other work colleagues of Noriko who promptly point him in the direction of Miki Shirono (Mao Inoue), a shy, plain girl whom they believe may have been the culprit. They base their assumption on rumors of jealousy and petty theft. The segment is aired on national television and Twitter explodes with discussion of Miki being the killer, with most believing her guilty.

Letters are written by friends of Miki protesting the coverage and insinuation of their friend’s guilt, so the station sends Yuji to Miki’s hometown, where stories, false memories and rumors only seem to fuel the fire of the young woman’s guilt. Miki, who is in hiding because of a semi-unrelated incident sees the media uproar over the murder of Noriko and her possible guilt, so she writes her story. What follows is the story of a shy but optimistic young woman who continues to believe that good things will happen even in the face of gossips, flakey boyfriends, and manipulative young women.

What stands out in Nakamura’s film is how the media and social media—specifically Twitter, in this case—can potentially ruin a person’s life without any proof of wrongdoing. Miki Shirono’s life is completely picked apart by people who know nothing about her, using the rumors generated by people who do know her in order to advance careers and fill the 24-hour news cycle that dominates modern television. I sympathized with Miki, though for a good chunk of the movie wondered whether or not she did, in fact, murder Noriko. And that’s the beauty of The Snow White Murder Case. Nakamura is able to keep you guessing with interesting storytelling.

The acting is very good, with most of the characters being quite believable. I especially enjoyed Nanao’s portrayal of the victim Noriko as we watch her go from beautiful and perfect according to one account, to being vindictive and manipulative in another. The film also looks at gender roles and the competition between women in the workplace and in society, in general. Nakamura takes that a step further and takes shots at those social constructs. The usual societal tropes are taken apart, especially with the resolution of Noriko’s murder and how the entire experience affects Miki.

What I had an issue with was the stream of tweets that went up onto the screen at times. They sometimes got in the way, distracting me from the conversations going on simultaneously between characters on screen. They also were annoying when they popped up while I was trying to read subtitles for those simultaneous conversations. Overall, though, I found The Snow White Murder Case to be a solid film worth viewing.

The Snow White Murder Case is showing at Japan Society on July 11. This screening is a co-presentation of the New York Asian Film Festival and JAPAN CUTS. The full schedule for NYAFF 2014 can be found here; the JAPAN CUTS schedule can be found here.