Salvage Mice (Japan 2011)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 2/6/16
Cast: Mitsuki Tanimura, Julia Nagano, Hina Tobimatsu, Richard Heselton

Maisu (Mitsuki Tanimura) is a cute and bubbly cat burglar who gets framed and double-crossed by her no-good partner. Her quick thinking and superior martial arts skills allow her to evade capture, but her ego suffers a severe blow and her reputation is tainted. While visiting the Hiroshima Memorial, she meets a feisty young karate expert named Mio (Julia Nagano) and takes an immediate liking to her. Another botched caper exposes Maisu's secret identity and drives a wedge of misunderstanding between her and Mio, but Mio eventually comes around and rescues Maisu from a den of thugs where she's being beaten and tortured. Miraculously, Maisu manages to shrug off her injuries and the two of them team up to take out a nasty American crime boss who is stealing priceless Japanese treasures (Richard Heselton from "High Kick Girl!" (2009) and "Karate Girl" (2011) ).

It's a fun and lighthearted female adventure romp that would definitely benefit from having subtitles. As it is, the plot details are confusing and the character development is lost. Mitsuki Tanimura sets the playful tone of the film with her adorably charming personality, and approaches everything with enthusiastic child-like glee. Although she's a physically graceful actress, her action scenes tend to be weak and underwhelming, and suffer from sleight of hand choreography, deceptive editing, and glaring shoe discontinuity. Fifteen year-old Julia Nagano, on the other hand, is an excellent martial artist, and super cute as well. I would love to see more of her work. She and Hina Tobimatsu (Natsuki from "Karate Girl") have a fun and exciting showdown, but it's spoiled by sloppy camera work and choppy editing. This could have been (and perhaps should have been) the highlight of the show, but it falls short of expectations. Even though the fight scenes are energetic and fun to watch, the overall choreography, cinematography, and execution are somewhat lacking and left me wanting more. However, the acting is good, the production values are decent, the characters are delightful, the cast is attractive, and the pacing is brisk, so I was never bored - just occasionally confused due to the lack of subtitles. It reminded me of "Cat's Eye" (1997) more than anything else, except not quite as campy.