Movie adaptation of Keigo Higashino’s Laplace’s Witch is a scientific mystery that gets preposterous

Sho Sakurai (left) and Suzu Hirose star in Laplace's Witch.
Sho Sakurai (left) and Suzu Hirose star in Laplace's Witch.PHOTO: ENCORE FILMS



116 minutes/Opens today/***

The story: Two murders using hydrogen sulphide appear to have taken place in the snow, but geochemistry professor Shusuke Aoe (Sho Sakurai of boyband Arashi) thinks it is highly unlikely that the gas can be so precisely manipulated outdoors. The appearance of a mysterious young woman, Madoka Uhara (Suzu Hirose), who calls herself Laplace's Witch, raises more questions. [French mathematician Laplace (1749-1827) put forward a theory of causal determinism that came to be known as Laplace's demon.] Based on Keigo Higashino's 2015 novel of the same name.

Japan's Higashino is a prolific writer whose works have successfully made the leap to the big screen. Examples include the wrenching murder mystery Suspect X (2008) and poignantly humane time-travelling drama The Miracles Of The Namiya General Store (2017).

At his best, his stories engage the mind and the heart, teasing with seemingly intractable puzzles, while giving flawed and vulnerable characters to root for and empathise with.

Unfortunately, the movie Laplace's Witch disappoints.

It begins promisingly enough, with two seemingly impossible murders taking place in two hot-spring towns in the thick of winter. How was it done? Is there a link between the deaths?

Adding to the mystery is Madoka, who seems to have a witch-like ability to predict events, such as the exact direction in which spilt juice flows.

Slowly, we learn why she is interested in the murders and also the story behind her unnerving skill.

But as the revelations trickle in, the preposterous index starts shooting up, which means one's interest level starts to waver.

And for a so-called scientific mystery, Laplace's Witch is not as satisfying as Higashino's Galileo series, featuring ace physicist Manabu Yukawa, which includes the acclaimed and best-selling 2005 novel The Devotion Of Suspect X.

The movie also feels like an odd fit for film-maker Takashi Miike. Though versatile, he is probably best known for violent and brutal works such as Audition (1999) and Ichi: The Killer (2001).

The result feels too tame for a Miike flick and not persuasive enough for a Higashino tale.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2018, with the headline 'Scientific mystery gets preposterous'. Subscribe