By Alexandria Sage
CANNES (Reuters) - Japanese director Takashi Miike got the final week of the Cannes film festival off to an explosive start on Monday, with big budget cop thriller "Shield of Straw" a sharp contrast to the more intense, intimate movies screened so far.
Typically for Cannes, where critical passions run high, both exuberant cheers and boos rang out after an advance press screening of "Wara No Tate" ("Shield of Straw"), one of 20 entries vying for the top Palme d'Or prize awarded on Sunday.
Miike, whose last appearance at the world's most important cinema showcase was in 2011, said the selection committee's decision to include his high-octane cop movie in the main lineup came as a shock.
"When I learned this film was selected I was very surprised, I was really astonished," Miike told reporters ahead of its official Monday evening premiere.
"If I got the Palme d'Or I'd be delighted of course," he said. "But I don't really think this is a film made for the Palme d'Or. But I'm delighted to know that a rather different kind of film, another class of film is in the selection."
Halfway through the festival, critics have seen a varied array of films, from Ethan and Joel Coen's quirky ode to folk music "Inside Llewyn Davis" to Amat Escalante's powerful "Heli" about Mexico's drug war.
The competition has also included the intense psychological drama "Le Passe" ("The Past") directed by Iran's Asghar Farhadi, whose "A Separation" won a best foreign language Oscar.
Eagerly-awaited movies to launch this week include U.S. director Steven Soderbergh's "Behind the Candelabra" about pianist Liberace and starring Michael Douglas, and "La Venus a la Fourrure" ("Venus in Fur") by Roman Polanski about an actress trying to convince a director to cast her in his latest play.
Since starting out in motion pictures in the early 1990s, Miike has made over 80 films, including the 1999 horror flick "Audition" and 2004's "Zebraman" about a family man superhero.
In "Wara No Tate," four elite police officers are charged with protecting and transporting a high-profile criminal across the country after a billionaire puts a huge bounty on his head for the murder and rape of his granddaughter.
Apparently everyone is after the criminal, played by Tatsuya Fujiwara, raising the stakes for lead cop Kazuki Mekari (Takao Osawa) who is charged with protecting him but who resolutely refuses to kill him himself to reap the reward.
"All of the characters in the film have their own ideas of justice ... even the criminal, he has his own approach," Osawa told journalists. "There are two sides, good and evil, and everyone tries to find a balance to survive."
Despite his fondness for action, Miike also explores darker themes in the film including the morality of protecting criminals at the expense of victims and how financial desperation breeds violence.
In one early review, Screen magazine's Tim Grierson cited the "pulpy thrills" of the premise and a gripping lead performance by Osawa, but added that "plausibility issues and an unconvincing exploration of the limits of justice noticeably dampen the fun."
(Reporting by Alexandria Sage; editing by Mike Collett-White)