After more than 10 years, legendary director Gakuryu Ishii comes out of hibernation to tell a story about the weirdest end of the world you’ll ever see…
There’s no middle ground for those who’ve seen Isn’t Anyone Alive?, there are no “I kinda like it” or “I’m not sure I appreciate it”: you’ll love it or you’ll hate it. I don’t want to waste time blabbering and that’s why I’ll start saying that I’m a member of those who’re still thinking, laughing and crying because of Gakuryu Ishii’s (Burst City, Crazy Thunder Road) last extraordinary effort. Twelve years are gone since his last movie, decades since his films that helped define the punk genre in Japan in the eighties. Now he’s back and he wants to make you laugh while he’s punching you directly in the stomach and you’re eyes will lie in a limbo asking to themselves whether they have to cry or not.
Adapted from a famous Japanese theatrical piece by Shiro Maeda, Isn’t Anyone Alive? is the fair of weird with tiers and tiers of stalls crawling next to the grotesque but without falling in it, staying secured in a clean, delicate and cold white bubble – a great accomplishment by cinematographer Yoshiyuki Matsumoto.
Keisuke (the same Shota Sametani who won as the best young actor for Sion Sono’s Himizu) is a waiter in the university bar at the campus next to the hospital from where Miki (Konatsu Tanaka), a not so mentally stable girl, runs away; in the garden there’s Nana (Mai Takahashi) waiting for Matsuchi (Keisuke Hasebe) and Katsuo (Hiroaki Morooka) in order to start the urban myth fanclub reunion, something that Enari (Yumika Tajima), Andore (Kota Fudauchi) and Eiko (Ami Ikenaga) can’t really understand. The trio prefers to prepare a choreography for Ryoko (Rin Takanashi) and Katsufumi’s (Asato Iida) wedding, but what they don’t know is that Katsufumi cheated on Ryoko with Kaori (Hakka Shiraishi), who’s now pregnant.
It’s not all about the students, there’s even a mother (Chizuko Sugiura) worried for her son Katsuo since when she heard that everyone is dying with no apparent reason; a couple of weirdo, Yama (Jun Murakami) and Dr. Fish (Shojiro Tsuda); a television idol, Shoji (Tatsuya Hasome), now a student at the university; Dr. Naitoyu (Tateto Serizawa), in love with Maki (Eri Aoki), who’s now received a visit from her sibling Koyuichi (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), recently gone out of prison.
What happens? They start to die, one by one. Panic? Yes, but the greatest fear is to be alone at the end, without being able to tell their deepest – or not so deepest – thoughts to their fellow friend, lover or whoever is there sharing that experience with them. What did Ishii wanted to say? What we can understand is that he’s having fun pulling legs to life, exposing it on a shelf covered by the thickest glass you’ve ever felt in a movie, a glass that doesn’t allow the audience to feel close to the characters dying on the screen. A series of deaths meant to make us laugh and sometimes shed a tear in those scenes which could easily be defined as the weirdest ones.
Feelings and emotions are associated to all media, from anime to manga, from theatre to television dramas, each of these things are ripped off from their containers and thrown and mixed in an ordinary campus in an ordinary town, one of those from where you won’t expect to hear anything in particular.
Forget the realism, Ishii’s clean and dying world is too small to be even closer to ours, rules are bent in order to represent the unexpectable: the end of the world, a bunch of people’s last words. A nowadays masterpiece in which trash, sci-fi, post-apocalyptic are joined together with a joke and a mockery, giving the audience just one role: the passive. Undergo is the viewer’s key word, like all the characters who’re not really trying to help each other until the moment of their final breath arrives.
Isn’t Anyone Alive? is released on UK DVD on 22 October by Third Window Films.
Review originally published 5 October 2012.