To those who know it, Noboru Iguchi’s name brings up a very particular image. In fact, when people with only a tangential knowledge of Japanese cinema, Iguchi’s work is probably the first thing they think of. It’s exactly the kind of schlocky, over-the-top stuff everyone everyone ascribes to Japanese cinema as a whole. He’s the mind behind RoboGeisha, Mutant Girls Squad, Karate Robo Zaborgar, and Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead. You’ve probably seen at least one of those on Netflix as a joke.
His newest film, Live, is still weird and crazy and doesn’t skimp on the red stuff, but it is also the closest Iguchi has ever come to making a movie for the masses.
[The Fantasia International Film Festival is currently taking place in Montreal through August 7th. As it begins to wind down, we’ll be reviewing some of the interesting things we saw there. For more information, head here. For all of our coverage, go here.]
Live (Raivu | ライヴ)
Director: Noboru Iguchi
Live (pronounced “lyv” not “lihv”) is a new take on an adaptation. Rather than really basing his script on Yusuke Yamada novel of the same name, Iguchi’s film uses the book as an integral part of the plot. Naoto Tamura is a not-very-nice person who is forced to finally care about someone when a garbled voice calls him one day and tells him his mother will be killed if he doesn’t follow instructions. As proof, he is sent a live feed of his mother in a dark room and men with covered faces holding needles full of poison. (Isn’t technology great?)
The instructions are simple: Find him. How is Naoto supposed to do that? Why, by reading Yusuke Yamada’s novel, of course. The mysterious person on the other side of the phone has effectively recreated the situation in the book, a deadly “triathlon” reminiscent of Battle Royale, and Naoto is not the only player in the game. As he reaches the first destination (note: the book’s protagonist is also named Naoto Tamura), he runs into a number of other people running around with copies of Live in their hands. Each and every one of them was given the same order, or a loved one would be poisoned, and so they’ve all got their phones open to their respective live feeds. (This operation is clearly a big one.)
But things take a turn once people start dying. Not the people on the live feeds, the people reading the book. The first death is an accident, a woman’s head is crushed in an almost Final Destination-like fashion, set off by an unfortunate chain of events. (The catalyst, by the way, was an exceedingly short miniskirt given to her by the game’s director as part of the uniform. Obligatory up-skirt shots are in abundance in the following minutes. (And shots of female behinds are found throughout.)) Soon, though, the accidents are replaced by straight up murders (and the occasional accident). And while I was hoping for some real Rube Goldberg-esque kills, what I got was a bit more straight foward (but no less ridiculous). Eventually, of course, the various people in this game turn on each other, and the director arms them well. In an elevator, beside the only bike in the film (it’s a triathlon in name only) are a whole bunch of weapons. And once people get their hands on them, all hell breaks loose.
The violence in Live straddles the fine line between funny-stupid and stupid-stupid. There is just enough imagination to keep things fresh throughout and the moments before and after are usually pretty funny (I laughed often and loudly), but the actual implementation leaves much to be desired. Ranged weapons use CGI ammunition and the more dangerous close range weapons cause CGI bloodsprays. The film usually then cuts to a prosthetic or other practical effect, but at the point of contact it just looks bad. It doesn’t help that the fight choreography is bland at best. While there’s no reason to think that this rag-tag gang would be able to pull off intense fights, the attempts at creating such scenes comes off as laughably bad. Not funny-stupid, just stupid-stupid.
So I said this film is reasonably accessible, and I stand by that statement. The premise is crazy, but it’s also really not that over the top in the grand scheme of Iguchi’s works. Person being told by a voice in his ear what to do, lest someone he loves dies? That’s positively Hollywood. Not good Hollywood, but definitely the kind of junk you’d see come from a smaller studio. Live is better than that junk. It’s obviously got its Japanese quirks (Iguchi is all about the Japanese quirks), but it’s pretty easy to follow along, despite its large cast. And while a couple of things happen that go a bit too far off the deep end (see header image), for the most part it’s oddly logical. In fact, for most of the film the weirdest thing is just how bad everyone’s aim seems to be (I think if you find fifteen crossbow bolts, you’d hit something. Even by accident.)
While this isn’t a film for everyone, it could serve as a reasonable introduction to the stranger side of Japanese cinema. The low quality CGI/silly look practical effects mean that its over-the-top violence never takes a turn for the sickening. Plus, it’s a comedy at heart and the jokes hit more often than they don’t. Having never read Yusuke Yamada’s original book, I don’t know just how well the characters adhere to it, but on concept alone the meta-adaptation is a brilliant move, and one that I’d like to see explored elsewhere.
Live is dumb, fun, and definitely one to see in a crowd. If you can catch it in a theater, do so. If not, though, get a group of friends together and check it out on when it inevitably ends up on Netflix.