Despite an intriguing premise, Daihachi Yoshida’s Japanese-language film fails to maintain interest. Based on the manga Hitsuji no Ki (The Sheep Tree), the story features a harried city hall official, Tsukisue, and his attempts to integrate six parolees into his sleepy, coastal village. In an effort to combat a decreasing population, and also to meet more intensive parole requirements, the village’s chief has agreed to initiate a project involving the rehabilitation of murderers over the next ten years. No one in the village is to know that there are murderers in their midst.
While a fascinating premise that could illuminate on issues of criminal justice, integration, and forgiveness, the film suffers from too many characters and a glut of unnecessary footage. Though the characters are not necessarily hard to keep track of, many are underserved by the script. One of the parolees gets a job in a daycare and is barely mentioned for the rest of the film. Why not focus on one or two parolees, instead of serving everyone short?
Initially, the characters fascinated, but as time went on, their one note natures became monotonous. The exception was the ex-convict played by Ryûhei Matsuda who takes an interest in guitar lessons, Tsukisue’s love interest, and Tsukisue himself. I would watch a movie based on his character alone.
With the film’s runtime of just above 2 hours, the limited character development and scenes that do not seem to serve any sort of narrative purpose make this film a slog – which is a shame, since this is a novel premise worthy of further and better exploration.