Short Log Line
"The defendant is hereby sentenced to death."
The mission: to save a wrongfully accused death row prisoner
The time limit " 3 months, the reward " substantial.
But what happens when the hunter becomes the prey?
Guilty or Innocent?
Two men race against the clock to save the life of a wrongfully accused death row prisoner. But the truth dwelled in an elaborate trap beyond their imagination...
Long Log Line
A death row inmate awaits his insufferable fate " with no memory of committing the crime.
Two men, with dark secrets of their own, sense injustice -- and begin a race against the clock in pursuit of the truth.
An underground shrine deep in the mountains forbids entry to trespassers " does the answer lie here?
As buried memories and the "human karma" slowly and mysteriously reveal themselves, two men struggle to solve the psychological puzzle, with the life of one man literally at stake.
Short Production Note
Kazuaki Takano's novel, "The Thirteen Steps", was unanimously selected to receive the 47th Edgar Allen Poe Award for literary fiction this year. And now, this compelling mystery that has been adapted to film dramatically explores issues of "human dignity" and "atonement" with depth and gravity.
Taking the megaphone is up and coming Director Masahiko Nagasawa, who deftly blends subtlety with large-scale entertainment as seen in such works as "Kokoni Irukoto" '01 and "Seoul" '02.
Playing the hero, Junichi Mikami is Takashi Sorimachi, in a challenging role of a young man who carries the burden of having killed a man. Veteran actor Tsutomu Yamazaki plays the role of a prison official, Shoji Nango, who has also taken a life by actually executing a prisoner, and struggles with his own moral decisions between duty and ethics.
Mikami Junichi is a young man who has just finished serving time for involuntarily killing a man in an argument. Shoji Nango is a prison officer who has also taken a life " in the execution of a prisoner. Nango has a proposition for Mikami " he needs help in the investigation of a prisoner wrongfully sentenced with the death penalty. With hopes for their own redemption, the two men begin their quest for the truth. The condemned prisoner has lost his memory in an accident, and the only lead they have is a flashback that he has of "the stairs"... With the execution day looming ever closer, Mikami and Nango come face to face with the shocking truth...
SORIMACHI x YAMAZAKI
The struggle and redemption of two men with scars that won't heal...
The hero -- Junichi Mikami, who carries the heavy burden of having killed a man -- is played by multi-talented Takashi Sorimachi, who has been popularized by his charismatic performances in numerous hit dramas, movies and commercials.
Playing the part of the prison official who is also struggling with his own moral decisions between duty and ethics is veteran actor Tsutomu Yamazaki, who began his career in Akira Kurosawa's 1963 film "High and Low" and has won numerous awards for his highly acclaimed performances.
The talented cast also includes Tsurube Shokufutei as the attorney who initiates the investigation, Rena Tanaka as Nango's daughter, and the popular writer Kankuro Kudo as the death row prisoner, Kihara.
Four months short of serving a 3-year sentence in prison for involuntarily killing a man in an argument, Junichi Mikami (Takashi Sorimachi) returns home on parole. Soon after, he is paid a visit by the prison officer Shoji Nango (Tsutomu Yamazaki) who has a proposition " he wants Junichi to help him investigate the case of a man who may have been wrongfully sentenced to the death penalty. The attorney, Sugiura, (Tsurube Shofukutei) representing the client who initiated the investigation, begins recounting to Junichi the chain of events surrounding the case...
Ryo Kihara (Kankuro Kudo), with a previous theft record, was indicted for the murder of the Utsugi's, a couple that was in custody of Kihara during his parole " the motive, money. All physical evidence at the murder scene points to Kihara, but in an auto accident immediately following the crime, Kihara's memory of the incident is completely erased.
Unable to admit or deny his guilt or to repent for a crime that he doesn"t know if he committed, protests and appeals by Kihara are all denied, and he is sentenced to the death penalty three years later. Now, with only three months remaining until the dreaded execution, the only hope for Kihara's salvation is the shred of a memory of the crime that has flashed in his mind of "climbing the stairs"...
Junichi needs the reward money to help his family's desperate financial situation, and embarks on the search with Nango. But coincidentally, the search leads them to the very town where Junichi's own manslaughter victim, Keisuke Sano, lived. Junichi and Nango arrive at Sano's home to express their earnest apologies, but Mitsuo Sano (Hisashi Ikawa), Keisuke's father, is still consumed with anger.
The two resume their search for the "steps" in the mountains that surround the murder site in the hopes of uncovering the bankbook and authorization seal of the Utsugis, which they suspect will provide some clues.
But as the investigation continues, Junichi is racked with the renewed guilt of having taken a man's life. Beginning to despise his own materialistic motives, Junichi tells Nango that he wants out. It is then that Nango confesses his own "crime" " he, also, has taken a man's life with his own hands... by actually executing a prisoner in the line of duty.
13 years ago, a man, Terada was indicted for murdering an affluent family for money, and was sentenced to death. However, during his imprisonment, Terada truly repented for what he had done and changed his ways " so much so, that the victim's own family requested a lighter sentence. But time ran out, and the day inevitably arrived when Nango was forced to do his duty and carry out the execution.
"I, too, am a murderer."
Nango's stake in this case was a reprieve from his own dark past. Junichi and Nango " two men with heavy crosses to bear... What shocking revelation awaits them at their destination?
But, then an unimaginable fact surfaces that links Junichi to the murder of the Utsugis. And Junichi had indeed been there, in that very town, 10 years ago...
The Story`The hidden answers revealed
In his desperate search for the "steps", Junichi begins to question the motive behind the murder of the Utsugis| perhaps there was more than just the money... If a life sentence parolee gets one bad report from his parole custodians, he can never "get out" again. Could the Utsugis have been "silenced" to prevent this?
Junichi and Nango seek out hotel owner Norio Ando, who knew the Utsugis and employed parolee Kihara, but Ando provides no useful leads. Neither does an ex-life sentence parolee previously under Utsugi's custody. But they do gain one clue | the Utusugis had a vast estate. According to Attorney Sugiura's research, the estate is worth about a million. Why does a retired elementary school principal have that kind of money?
Junichi guesses that Utsugi blackmailed parolees under his custody, threatening them with incriminating reports back to the authorities | and a parolee who couldn"t tolerate the constant threat of being turned in exacts revenge and commits the murder | then frames Kihara for it. Utsugi's bankbook may reveal the name of the party paying the vast sums of blackmail money to Utsugi, and lead them to the true culprit.
Meanwhile, Junichi and Nango discover a buried temple deep in the mountains and finally find the "steps" of Kihara's memory. And those "steps" lead them to the statue that guards the murder weapon and Utsugi's authorizing seal | but no bankbook. Shockingly, the fingerprints on the murder weapon match that of Mikami's. And ten years ago, on the date of Utsugis" murder, Mikami was in fact in this town...
The police want to bring Mikami in for questioning, but Nango, who believes in Mikami's innocence, asks hotel owner Ando to harbor him. Nango believes that it was indeed Ando who instigated this search to save Kihara, being Kihara's employer during his parole and having taken on Kihara's defense. He is also financially capable of paying the huge reward if the true killer is found. But Ando's constant worry over the whereabouts of the bankbook raises suspicions and Nango decides to dig deeper to unearth the truth.
On the other hand, Mikami is perplexed | why are his prints on the weapon? His questions bring him to Zoganji Temple, and behind the statue, Mikami discovers Utsugi's bankbook! The name of the party remitting the large sums of money to the Utsugi's was | Norio Ando.
"So it was here after all" | standing behind Mikami is Mitsuo Samura | the father of the man Mikami inadvertently killed in an argument. The weapon and authorizing seal that were discovered earlier was, in fact, a trap set by Samura to frame Mikami for the murder of the Utsugis...
For Takashi Sorimachi, who has previously played mainly emotionally charged, high-energy characters, portraying Junichi Mikami, a young man carrying the burden of a "record" and an even darker secret, could not have been a more contrasting role. Says Sorimachi, "Roles requiring you to suppress emotions are much more physically taxing than those where you can just bare yourself. I have learned so much about the art of subtle expression simply by watching Mr. Yamazaki's back."
Says Yamazaki who plays opposite Sorimachi, "Sorimachi's theatrical strength lies in his straightforward nature and transparency. We will definitely see a new side of Sorimachi in this film."
The veteran actor Yamazaki develops his own role with exceptional seriousness. It is well known that his script pages become so inundated with his own notes that you can hardly see the print!
A young actor and a veteran challenge themselves in this highly charged and intelligent drama, and invite us to journey with them into the depths of the human soul...
At times serene, at times charged with emotion, the music for the film was created by British artist, Nick Wood, who has recently produced a series of hit commercial songs in Japan.
"We don't have capital punishment in our country." This was the first comment about "The Thirteen Steps" made by British artist Nick Wood. But as the days and months were spent on location in deep discussions with the director and producer, and long hours were devoted in the studio to the creation of the music for the film, Nick transcended all cultural boundaries to create a piece which cannot simply be categorized as "healing" music. The work embodies the spirit of the film | "redemption and rebirth". The score was masterfully orchestrated by Hollywood's Todd Hayden ("Dr. Morrow's Island", "The Silent Battleship") and the ending theme song is graced with the emotional and angelic voice of YAE. This British, US and Japanese collaboration enrich the musical inspiration for this film.
Zoganji Temple | the underground temple that has been desolate for decades is the site for the story's final destination and climactic battle.
Artist Tomio Ogawa traveled all over Japan researching the country's countless Buddhist temples to recreate this cryptic image. Over a month of design and construction gave birth to the colossal 20-meter x 10-meter set of "Zoganji Temple". A further two months were devoted to researching each region's innumerable Buddhist icons to create the original statue that lives within and guards this temple. It is this very statue that leads the hero Junichi Mikami to his salvation and rebirth.
A true sense of "reality" was vital in this film, and the death penalty, with all that it entails, was painstakingly researched. With real-life ex-prison guard Toshio Sakamoto as Correctional Facilities Advisor, all the processes and steps leading up to an actual execution, the interior of the execution chamber, the material used for the hanging rope | each detail was thoroughly studied to create "reality" in "The Thirteen Steps".
Says Director Nagasawa, "I don't intend to make a statement to support or oppose capital punishment in this film. I merely wish to accurately document the reality of it. In order to do so, the imagery has to be utterly real and believable. And through this effort, I strived to explore an alternative path to the legal or personal retribution that capital punishment represents. Morality, Ethics, and Compassion. These are the issues I wish to raise."
Takashi Sorimachi | as Junichi Mikami, a young man with a "record"
Films: "Fly Boys Fly" '95, "GTO" '99, "Full Time Killer" '01 (in Hong Kong)
TV Dramas: "Beach Boys", "GTO", "Overtime", "Cheap Love", "Love Complex", "Double Score" CX
Tsutomu Yamazaki | as Shoji Nango, a prison officer at Matsumoto Penitentiary
Films: "High and Low" '63, "Kagemusha" '80, "The Funeral" '84, "Tampopo" '85, "Taxing Woman" '87, "Copycat" 02, "Keimusho no Naka" '02
Tsurube Shofukutei | as Kihara's Attorney
Films: "High and Low" '63, "Kagemusha" '80, "The Funeral" '84, "Tampopo" '85, "Taxing Woman" '87, "Copycat" 02, "Keimusho no Naka" '02
Rena Tanaka | as Nango's Daughter
Films: "Give It All" '98, "GTO" '99, "Hatsukoi" '00, "ekiden" '00, "Tokyo Marigold" '01
Kankuro Kudo | as the falsely accused death row prisoner
Films: "Kids Return" '96, "CROSS" '01
Screen plays: ""GO" '01, "Pingpong" '02, "Ikebukuro West Gate Park"
Hiroyuki Miyasako | as the condemned prisoner (of Nango's past)
Films: "Kishiwada Shounen Gurentai" '96, "Crossfire"'00, "Ashita ga Arusa THE MOVIE" '02
Ren Osugi | as the Hotel owner
Hisashi Ikawa | as Keisuke's (Mikami's manslaughter victim's) father
Tetsuya Bessho | as Kihara's Prosecutor
Susumu Terashima | as Nango's ex-subordinate
Yoichi Sai | as Nango's ex-supervisor
Akiko Kinouchi | as Junichi's girlfriend
Renji Ishibashi | as Nango's current supervisor
Hideji Otaki | as Junichi's parole guardian
Director Masahiko Nagasawa
Producer: "Undo" '94, "Love Letter" '95
Original Screenplay: "Hatsukoi" '00
Directorial Debut: "Kokoni irukoto" '01
Awards: 23rd Yokohama Film Festival | Best new Director
56th Mainichi Film Competition | Best New Artist
21st Fujimoto Award | Best New Talent
Director: "Seoul" '02
'03: "Sotsugyou"- Tokyo International Festival in the Competition category, and "The Thirteen Steps"-Sundance Film Festival. World Cinema.
Original Novel by Kazuaki Takano
Studied film production, cinematography and editing in Los Angeles while working for ABC Network. In 2001, wrote the best selling thriller "The Thirteen Steps" which won the 47th Edgar Allen Poe Award for literary fiction. The novel examines the very "heavy" topic of the death penalty from a variety of perspectives | that of the victim, the prisoner awaiting his execution, and the executioner | all within the framework of a search for the truth, that twists and turns at every corner.
Ranking highly on numerous bestseller lists and now adapted to film, this compelling mystery dramatically explores issues of "human dignity" and "atonement" with depth and gravity. Currently publishing his new novel, "Grave Digger".
Script/Screenplay by Tadashi Morishita
Won the Shiroto Award in 1995 for his original screenplay of "Yukai". In 1996, "Yukai" became a film, which won the Japanese Academy Award for Best Screenplay in 1998. Dramas include "Heart Surgeon | Ryoko" (NPR Award) and "Female Doctor" (Galaxy Award).
Ending theme song | by YAE
Debuted in 2001 with the hit album "New Aeon" and currently performing a number of commercial theme songs. Due to release her second album, "Blue Line" in January 2003.
Producer | Masaru Kakutani
Graduated from Waseda University in 1961 and joined Fuji TV where he produced a number of highly acclaimed films such as "Antarctica", "Burman Harp ", and "Adventure of Miro and Otis". In 1986, won a Special Award from the Japan Producers Association and in
1987, won the 6th Fujimoto Award. From 1987, managed a joint venture with a major Hollywood studio. His work "Owl's Castle" enjoyed great success in 1999.
A NOTE FROM THE PRODUCER
What makes this movie entertaining is its complexity. Who really killed the Utsugis? What is the significance of death row prisoner Kihara's memory of the "steps"? Who is the dark figure pulling the strings and who instigated this search? The two protagonists, all the while wrestling with their own dark pasts, journey their way to the buried temple, Zoganji Temple, in the startling climax where all the answers are revealed.
The temple is the site where Junichi is brought face to face with the man who wishes to avenge his son's death by cornering Junichi into the same fate, through the legal means of the death penalty, and where Nango and Ando, the true murderer, come to grips in a nearby marsh.
"To create an authentic environment for this vital scene, I could not resort to computer graphics | it simply wouldn't be real enough. My staff drove around for two months relentlessly scouring the Kanto area before finding this deserted stone-cutting site in Ibaragi Prefecture.
This film explores the "value of human life" | but that is not to say that it is an appeal against capital punishment. Rather, through this film, I wanted people to rethink the true meaning of "atonement"... How one can truly "atone" for ones mistakes."
"We still have to go on living with ourselves..." Nango's heavy words are spoken as much to himself as to Ando, the true murderer, in the final scenes of the film.
But despite what obstacles may lay ahead, Nango embarks on a new future for himself, retiring from the prison and attempting a reunion with his estranged family.
Junichi also starts life anew, quietly caring for Yuri who is recovering from her own trauma.
"We all have emotional scars and pasts that we must live with | the true challenge is to accept them, and live life to its fullest."