Death Notice: Ikigami
Tomoyuki Takimoto (The Investigation Game) directs a pretty decent sci fi idea – shame it gets so soppy…!
When this first dropped through the letterbox I only caught a glimpse of the title, thinking for one worrying minute we were in for another sequel (prequel?) to the Death Note series. I shouldn’t have worried, but as it happens this is yet another manga adaption…
In an alternative near future, young children in Japan are given a special inoculation, and for one in 1,000 that means death between the ages of 18 and 24. Those due to die are served their notice 24 hours before their appointed death time by the Ikigami office, so they can spend their last few hours putting their lives in order.
Newly inducted into the Ikigami office comes Kengo Fujimoto (Shôta Matsuda, Boys Over Flowers). In this dark, windowless office there’s more than a hint of Brazil or 1984. Of a powerless drone unwillingly set to keep Orwellian ideas of bureaucracy enforcing a ‘greater good’ for society, echoed by a constant, effective use if CCTV, always on, always there, always keeping an eye on the populace.
Unfortunately Death Notice ditches most of these darker, more complex themes to concentrate on more mawkish, sentimental ideas – led by three lives that must end: the musician who left behind his band member for a stab at success; the brother who wants anything for his sister to see again; and most interestingly, the son of a seemingly perfect politician, who once fought to keep her son from being ‘inoculated’ before being punished for thought crime and becoming the most vocal advocate for its use.
That’s not to say these aren’t played out well, and director Tomoyuki Takimoto (The Investigation Game) gets great mileage from the bestselling manga series written and illustrated by Motoro Mase. It’s easy to interpret a comic book at face value, the text and images, but here he makes good use of things that are not even implied, like silence.
Perhaps the flaws of the source can’t be laid at Tomoyuki’s door, though often the longer running of a manga allows the deeper, more thoughtful and troubling aspects to be explored properly.
Ultimately Death Notice feels like a disappointment because it’s so close to being something far greater. Its themes may echo Logan’s Run or Gattaca, but lacks the formers spectacle or the latter’s intelligence. There’s an annoying nub of a great concept here, but following a sentimental line of ‘what would you do with your last day’ doesn’t do it. What is certain is this feels like part of a real resurgence in interesting concepts in Japanese sci fi and fantasy, echoed in films like The Sky Crawlers and K-20: The Legend of the Black Mask.
Frankly I could have spent a lot less time on those stories, and half an hour less would – as is so often the case in manga live-action films – have done it no end of good.
I can’t help feeling that the subtleties of the source material did help this though. There’s no overwhelming use of CGI or preposterous giant battles. Ably directed and acted, Shôta gives a solid performance in the lead, and there’s great support from Koji Tsukamoto (When the Last Sword is Drawn, Tokyo Fist), Riko Narumi, Denden (Cold Fish, Uzumaki) and Takayuki Yamada (13 Assassins, 252: Signal of Life, Waterboys, The Cat Returns).
This is very watchable and easily one of the better manga adaptations to come along.
(That’s why it’s so obvious it could have been much more…!)
Death Notice: Ikigami was released on DVD on 7 March by MVM.
Distributor: MVM (UK)
Nice crisp transfer of the film, but (as usual for MVM) very little in the way of extras save the original trailer and teaser.