Japan Cuts Review: Fly With the Gold


I don’t watch a whole lot of heist movies. It’s not that I don’t like them (I do), just that they don’t usually show up in my queue. As a reviewer, it can make talking in broad strokes about the genre kind of awkward, because when I say that Fly with the Gold is a different kind of heist movie, I’m not drawing from a vast pool of knowledge about the historical context and content of the genre. I’m just talking from my relatively minimal personal experience.

Even so, I’ll say it with conviction: Fly with the Gold is a different kind of heist movie.

[For the next few weeks, we will be covering the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival and the 2013 Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF 2013 coverage, click here. For Japan Cuts 2013 coverage, click here.]

Fly with the Gold (Ogon O Daite Tobe | 黄金を抱いて翔べ)
Director: Kazuyuki Izutsu
Rating: NR
Country: Japan

The Japan Society described Fly with the Gold as a “slow burn heist film,” and I think that’s accurate. It’s not really about the heist so much as the process of getting to it. The typical three act structure (preparation, heist, aftermath) doesn’t apply here; it’s preparation, preparation, heist. In fact, so much time is spent on what was happening pre-heist that for a while, I thought the film might never get there. Each of the robbers undergoes a series of unfortunate events, and I believed that they might just have to give up. It also seemed long enough that maybe it would be a reverse Reservoir Dogs, ending just as things were about to begin, possibly showing a bit of the aftermath but leaving the main attraction to the imagination.

That isn’t what happens. There is a heist, and it’s pretty awesome. It felt to me like what might actually happen in a heist of this sort. Both the occasional successes and myriad failures felt natural. About halfway through the film, the heist’s ringleader, Kitagawa (Tadanobu Asano) says that cautious is good, nitpicky is not. He wants it to be big and bombastic, but he’s not interested in pinning things down to the letter. What this means is that the heist itself is kind of loose. So many things go wrong (including one massive mistake that one would expect would be a forced mission abort), but almost none of them actually impact the progression of the heist.

Fly with the Gold

But the heist isn’t really the important part of the film anyway. What matters is everything leading up to that. There are six main characters: Kitagawa, Kota, Momo, Noda, Haruki, and Pops. Even though it’s an ensemble, Kota (Satoshi Tsumabuki) is still the film’s main focus. He is the first person Kitagawa goes to and the driving force for much of the action. But everybody gets time to shine. Haruki (Junpei Mizobata) is the least important character, but he’s given the most overtly dramatic character trait: cutting. Having an actually suicidal person on the team would have been a potentially interesting development, but Haruki’s depression (assuming that’s what it is) isn’t really explored nor does it play into the heist itself.

Momo (Shim Chang-Min) is a North Korean defector, which gives him the most interesting subplot, as he is chased by North Korean assassins. The bumbling ineffectiveness of the assassins is kind of weird, but whatever. It was fine. Noda, who essentially plays the team wimp, is given the least development of them all. He plays a vital role in the long run, but he’s pretty annoying for the most part. Pops is a wildcard, an old man who acts as a consultant rather than an actual operative. He has a pretty big moment near the end, but it was lost in a sea of groans as the audience let out a collective “Really?” I was a bit less offended than most of them, but it certainly wasn’t a great moment.

Fly with the Gold

Now let’s talk about that arthouse claim I made. Fly with the Gold isn’t an art film; it’s just more of one than most films like it. It’s the combination of the slow pace and vagueness: The film asks a lot of questions and leaves many of them unanswered. Although characters’ reasons for joining the heist are generally clear, other motivating factors are hidden and few are ever revealed. This leads to the audience needing to do a lot of the legwork to explain things, but not in a bad way. That could be the result of poor writing or character design, but here it didn’t feel that way. It felt like the writers believed that their audience was smart enough to piece things together, even if it meant that some things were confusing at the time. I appreciated that.

And I appreciated the film in general. I felt like I was watching something fresh, whether I knew the genre well or not. But even if it isn’t fresh, Fly with the Gold is still worth watching. The characters are interesting (especially Kitagawa and Kota), and the heist itself is pretty freaking awesome.

And that’s all people really want, isn’t it?