Review: Once Upon a Crime

When I think of Japanese fantasy media, the first thing that comes to mind is anime. That's why I was surprised to see a live-action Japanese movie centered around fairy tales. Once Upon a Crime is a recent Netflix release in which Little Red Riding Hood is a detective who attends the infamous royal ball with Cinderella to solve a murder. The movie uses a similar concept to Once Upon a Time by combining fairy tales and changing the circumstances around certain characters to add an element of surprise. With its lack of wide shots and cheesy visual effects, it was by no means a cinematic masterpiece. However, it did something different with these characters that I have never seen in any other iteration, which is really saying something considering how many versions of "Cinderella" are out there.


The movie presents itself as pure camp from the very beginning when a witch named Barbara asks Little Red Riding Hood if she's impressed by the fact that she's a witch instead of trying to curse her or show off an impressive display of power. In fact, Barbara is not very good at magic at all. She can transform rags into beautiful ballgowns, but she doesn't know how to do shoes. That's where Tekla, the white witch, comes in. Tekla is similar to the traditional Fairy Godmother character in both appearance and personality. She provides magical glass slippers for all the maidens in the kingdom that will only fit their owners. Donning their beautiful new gowns, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella make their way to the ball. The journey is halted when their coach runs over the dead body of Hans, the royal hairdresser. Suddenly, the glamorous proceedings of the ball are transformed into a murder trial, and everyone there is a suspect.

Even though this movie was made in another country, it has a lot in common with the last original live-action Netflix movie I've seen, The School for Good and Evil. Both movies spend the majority of their budgets on breathtakingly beautiful costumes that are so pleasing to the eye that the lack of strong visual effects is barely noticeable. Both Once Upon a Crime and School for Good and Evil also take place in superficial worlds where beauty is valued above all else, and the characters must learn to see past that in order to reveal the truth. Unlike The School for Good and Evil, which directly equates goodness with beauty, Once Upon a Crime takes a similar direction to the kingdom of Belleville from  Andrew Lloyd Webber's adaptation of "Cinderella," in which while it is understood that the majority of people in the kingdom are superficial by nature, the good-hearted minority possess the ability to see beyond this popular obsession.

Though the film's main plot centers around a murder mystery, the story remains campy and light-hearted throughout. It never feels like the characters are in any real danger and presents itself more like a Sherlock Holmes mystery than a thriller. Even the murder victim turns out to be an awful person who hurt many of the innocent maidens in the kingdom and would not be missed. The story gives audiences a chance to escape into a fairy tale world of glamorous costumes that is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. It adds new twists to well-known fairy tales and allows us to rethink the roles of beloved characters and how they would have reacted if their circumstances were different. Though Little Red Riding's fairy tale has very little to do with her role in the story, she is a fun protagonist who is well-respected amongst the inhabitants of the kingdom for her superior use of logic and deduction.

In a world dominated by anime, it's refreshing to discover a live-action movie like Once Upon a Crime that takes a unique approach to Japanese fantasy media. Combining fairy tales with a detective murder mystery, the film adds an element of surprise by reimagining familiar characters and altering their circumstances. While not a cinematic masterpiece, Once Upon a Crime dares to do something different by presenting a campy and light-hearted mystery. The movie's focus on beautiful costumes and superficiality resonates with other original Netflix films, such as The School for Good and Evil, but Once Upon a Crime distinguishes itself by emphasizing the importance of seeing past superficiality to reveal the truth. Overall, Once Upon a Crime offers a delightful and imaginative escape into a captivating world of enchantment, offering a fresh perspective on well-known fairy tales.

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