Saturday, April 03, 2010

KAIJI - A Film For Suckers

KAIJI: The Ultimate Gambler (mythical adventure)
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Teruyuki Kagawa, Ken'ichi Matsuyama, Yûki Amami and Tarô Yamamoto
Directors: Toya Sato
Screenplay: Mika Omori, based on manga by Nobuyuki Fukumoto
Time: 130 mins
Rating: * 1/2 (out of 4)

UTTERLY ANNOYING: Tatsuya Fujiwara (centre) in KAIJI

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? This manga-to-screen effort by Toya Sato may have 'cult status' written all over it but only for its penchant to irritate and annoy viewers with all that sucks in terms of movie-making. Its sequences are all melodramatic - with the director trying to milk every scene for all the (fake) melodrama and bathos that it is worth.

If there were a subtext or satire about how the dregs of Japanese society are caught in a self-imposed rut, it is overdone to the point of being ridiculous. However, if it is to reflect on the ridiculousness of Japanese TV game shows, it hits the nail on the head.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The protagonist is Kaiji Ito (Tatsuya Fujiwara), a typical born-loser whose gambling habit lands him with a huge debt. His sins catch up with him when Rinko Endo (Yuki Amani) shows up with a list of his debts - and offers him a chance to repay them - by taking part in a winner-takes-all game on a darkened cruise ship.

Those who lose the simple paper-scissors-stone game will end up working like slaves to build a ludicrous underground 'kingdom' planned by Endo's boss. Since every gambler is essentially a loser, Kaiji ends up in the slave detail. Still, since this is a gambling film, Kaiji gets a few more chances at getting out of his 'rut'.

HITS & MISSES: The main problem with this movie is that director Sato seems to be interpreting the manga comic for a bunch of morons instead of modern cinema audiences. Every aspect of the plot is over-explained and over-emphasised, stretching the film to an excruciating two-hour nightmare for viewers.

Sato, a former TV director, allows Fujiwara to overact and over-talk like he is performing for a campfire. He prolongs every scene, especially the one involving the characters crossing a narrow beam suspended 200 metres above ground. There is nothing remotely realistic about the way the characters behave, especially at a time when their lives depended on it. There is no attempt made to provide backgrounds to Kaiji's character or any of the other cast members from the cult series Death Note. And if there are any funny moments, they are all unintended.

THE LOWDOWN: Those who like to take a gamble on this movie may end up feeling like a loser, or worse, a sucker.


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