John Seven | Viewer's Discretion: 'Baptiste' provides surprise twists and turns
'BAPTISTE' (PBS MASTERPIECE)
If you saw the two seasons of "The Missing," then you're already familiar with retired French detective Julien Baptiste (Tcheky Karyo). In that previous show, Baptiste was only one element in larger dramas that focused on missing children, his involvement due to his reputation as one of the foremost investigators of missing children. Now graduating to his own series where the character is the focus, "Baptiste," which is written by the team behind "The Missing," Harry and Jack Williams, uses the shift to reimagine some of the previous elements in new settings, but also add a number of new ones that widen the scope of the mystery Baptiste faces.
It does start as a missing person case, however, when Baptiste is asked by an old friend in Amsterdam to take a look at a British man's search for his daughter, a prostitute. But as Baptiste does this favor, he finds himself on a winding path in which a number of the people involved aren't entirely who they seemed to be at the beginning, and which is fueled by a drive for profit through human chattel. As Baptiste delves into the labyrinthine world of Romanian gangsters and Dutch prostitution — neither really his field of expertise — he finds some of his standard investigative techniques challenged.
Like "The Missing," "Baptiste" combines family drama with investigative intrigue, though it's Baptiste's own family who's at the center here, notably his wife Celia (Anastasia Hille) who holds the distinction of being one of the smartest bystanders in a suspense drama I've ever seen. "Baptiste" also has some unlikely sidekicks in the adventure, both immensely well-written and portrayed — Edward Stratton (Tom Hollander ), the squirrelly British man seeking his daughter and obviously hiding something, and Genevieve Taylor (Jessica Raine) a prickly Interpol agent with her own personal reasons for vigorously pursuing an end to the case. This is an excellent suspense show, accessible, but written with care to include some surprising turns both in unfolding mystery and character depictions.
In Japan, Yoshihiro Tatsumi is an important creative figure, having branded the adult-oriented manga style of gekiga, which elevated the form to serious levels of narrative equal to the headiest literature. Singaporean filmmaker Eric Khoo's "Tatsumi" is an adaptation of Tatsumi's massive graphic novel autobiography, but it's also much more than that and its ambition matches that of its subject matter.
Tatsumi is still of limited fame abroad and so Khoo makes the very interesting decision of wrapping a pared-down career biography around adaptations of five of Tatsumi's short stories, powerful nuggets of the dark soul of Japan that will pummel any doubters that the form of manga has anything to offer.
Dark souls are indeed the specialty of Tatsumi's narrative focus, and this film gathers some of his most effective pieces, including the disturbing "Good-Bye," about a Japanese prostitute and her father; "Hell," a devastating analysis of Hiroshima as a turning point in history by making Japan a victim and obscuring the uncomfortable realities; and "Just A Man," a gloomy accounting of the soulless, demeaning existence of modern working man in Japan.
While the graphic novel took the time to reveal the intricacies of the history of manga and its place in Japanese culture, as well as Tatsumi's personal life, the film rejects the microscope in favor of a broader lens and, in doing so, offers a mandatory introduction to the work of one of the great narrative artists in the world who may have escaped your attention.
John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at johnseven.me.
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