Saturday, 4 June 2011

Death Notice: Ikigami (イキガミ) Review

Death Notice: Ikigami  イキガミ (2008)
Based on a popular manga, Death Notice: Ikigami is another Japanese title that deals with a ‘controversial’ concept, yet frames it in a emotional ‘drama’. I’m currently reading the manga, and its clear that selecting certain story-lines and characters would be difficult to structure in a 133 minute long film. Yet director Tomoyuki Takimoto successful creates a film that balances the multiple plots perfectly and with enough substance, that it allows the audience to gain an emotional attachment to these ‘doomed’ characters. Set in the near future, the film’s plot focuses on a piece of new legislation that the Japanese Government has past. In an attempt to boost national prosperity and create a more discipline society, one in every thousand child is randomly injected with a ‘lethal time-bomb’, which will end their life at the age of 25. Therefore, a Death Notice has to be handed to the sacrificial victim, notifying them that they have 24 hours left to live, and are free to do whatever they want. 
It’s a interesting plot, that certainly follows the ‘controversial’ style of Japanese cinema. This isn’t a Battle Royale-esque film, there’s no over-the-top gore of heavily explicit content. Instead Death Notice is a well constructed film by Takimoto, that focuses on the drama surrounding the ‘victims’ of the ‘Prosperity law’. The film is split between the stories of the 3 ‘victims’ and that of Kengo Fujimoto (Shota Matsuda), one of the deliverers of the Ikigami. We see the various changes, and emotions the characters express towards their imminent death. From a Yakuza member who has the chance to permanently help his ‘disabled’ sister, to a son of one of the MPs supporting the legislation, we explore a range of characters that react very differently to their Ikigami. Some will shock, others will sadden. Alongside these individuals is Kengo who is reluctant to continue his ‘evil’ job. Yet strict surveillance and his personality which separates him from fellow co-worker ‘automatons’, cause a character torn between what he really believes and the forceful nature of his duty. 
Acting-wise, the film is filled with recognisable faces from Japanese cinema. Takayuki Yamada, recently involved in Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins, plays Satoshi Iizuka who is one of the victims of the policy, and Departures’ Takashi Sasano, plays Director Ishii in charge of the ‘deliverers’. Its a great cast that performs perfectly to convey the realistic drama. Nothing is over-the-top or cutesy as with many ‘live-action’ adaptations, instead Death Notice: Ikigami is serious yet emotional. From the stern looks and remarks of Akira Emoto, who plays the Counsellor, to Riko Narumi playing the charming and likeable, ‘disabled’ sister of the Yakuza member, the film constructs the ‘feel’ and ‘tones’ of the manga quite well. 
Overall, Death Notice: Ikigami has an interesting concept, that while similar to William F. Nolan’s and George C. Johnson’s Logan’s Run, remains ‘unique’ and refreshing. The social commentaries on unemployment, bullying and social withdrawal are used well and not in a forceful, obvious manner. Tomoyuki Takimoto also does a great job, moving away from the stereotypically ‘over-the-top’, ‘comicy’ tones of popular Japanese cinema, to portray a more serious and realistic feature. Yes, the story is that of a manga, but Takimoto frames it in a touching ‘human drama’ that has the ability to induce ‘teary-eyed’ reactions, and doesn’t require knowledge of the source material. It’s a great directed, acted and written film that when the concept is to show the characters question the subject of life, it certainly evokes the audience to do so too.

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