Rating: 2 out of 5.

Hahahahaha… what did I just watch?!!

Directed by Yûichi Fukuda, the 2023 Japanese movie “Once Upon a Crime” (Original title: Akazukin, tabi no tochu de shitai to deau) takes two classic fairy tales – Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella – and mashes them into a murder mystery written for ten-year-olds. However, “Once Upon a Crime” is not even child-friendly, thanks to a kinky-creepy murder victim and the constant cartoon sounds made when Cinderella’s evil sister tries to show off her bosom each time the prince is around her.

Based on a manga, the primary plot is actually great: Little Red Riding Hood (Kanna Hashimoto), now a grown woman, journeys through the forest to attend the grand palace ball. On her way, she encounters poor Cinderella (Yûko Araki) in rags. With the help of two witches, they transform into palace-worthy attire. However, their carriage collides with the royal hairdresser’s corpse, prompting Red Riding Hood and Cinderella to conceal the body to avoid involvement in a murder case. They proceed to the palace, where Cinderella meets her dream Prince. Yet, the enchanting evening takes a dark turn when palace guards report the hairdresser’s murder and the Prince becomes the primary suspect in the case. It is up to clever Little Red Riding Hood to solve the case!

First off, despite “Once Upon a Crime” (Akazukin, tabi no tochu de shitai to deau) having a rather compact 90 minute runtime, the movie felt like it went on forever. The opening scene of Red Riding Hood meeting a weirdly dressed old witch who talks like a wannabe “cool aunt”, was not funny. The film looks like it should have been a very entertaining live stage play at an amusement park, but doesn’t work very well as a film. For a fantasy movie, the costumes are tardy and Red Riding Hood’s Ball dress is hideous and looks like it belongs in the 1970s or even further back. The gowns looked like they were made out of sparkly dining table cloths or were rented out from a shop that caters to high school musicals. The 2021 Disney revamp of “Cinderella” wasn’t a lot better, but at least the costumes and ball gowns were stunning, with Cinderella’s gown being a dreamy tulle dress decked in shiny crystals.

The writing attempts to challenge stereotypical notions of beauty, but it falls short because most actors in the film are good-looking, including Cinderella’s evil step-sisters, contrary to older depictions of them being ugly. Takanori Iwata earnestly portrays Prince Charming, but one might wish for a comedic actor in the role instead. The prince, unready for marriage, attends the ball merely to please his father, and for once, he doesn’t appear particularly smitten by Cinderella either. This is the biggest issue with “Once Upon a Crime.” Instead of fully embracing its exaggerated elements of fantasy, comedy, and magic, the film tries to inject more realism, which only makes the story less enjoyable.

The murder mystery twist added to the traditional tale may be the only thing that keeps viewers engaged until the end. After all, everyone wants to know – who is the killer? Kanna Hashimoto’s portrayal of detective Red Riding Hood feels somewhat flat and doesn’t stand out; she comes across as a schoolgirl trying to solve a comic-book puzzle. On the other hand, Yûko Araki is more convincing as the simpleton Cinderella, bullied by everyone around her, who sees her only chance at happiness with the Prince. Will she achieve her happy ending? Well, the final twist turns out to be quite surprising and delivers a non-traditional “happy ending.” A more skilled writing team or a larger budget might have made this film more engaging.

Rating: 4 on 10. You can stream “Once Upon a Crime” (Akazukin, tabi no tochu de shitai to deau) on Netflix.

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