movie lovers know amnesia and romance go together like fish and chips. Yakuza not so much, but they are all part of
the mix in screenwriter-director Kenji Uchida’s understated rom-com, Key of Life (trailer here), which releases
today on DVD from Film Movement.
mysterious Shinichiro Yamazaki (professional handle: Kondo) has just taken out
an unfortunate businessman. Despite his
protective garb, the hitman has a discrete dab of blood on him. He is also somewhat sweaty, so he heads for a
public bath, where he promptly slips on a bar of soap and cracks his head. Seizing the opportunity, suicidal loser-actor
Takeshi Sakurai grabs his keys and clothes, while an ambulance whisks him off
to the hospital. When Sakurai finally
resolves to face up to the well heeled Yamazaki, he finds the man has no memory
of his past life. Although he still
feels a tiny bit guilty, Sakurai continues impersonating Yamazaki, blissfully
unaware of the man’s dangerous line of work.
book publishing executive Kanae Mizushima gives herself a short deadline to
find and marry a reasonably respectable man. She has her reasons. Sakurai, as Yamazaki erroneously presumes
himself to be, seems like a poor prospect.
Yet, a chance encounter leads to possible romance for the two meticulous
souls. Of course, all sorts of
complications are lurking around the corner, many of them involving the Yakuza
who has a rather distasteful follow-up gig for Kondo.
paper, Key sounds like a whizbang
screwball comedy, but Uchida’s execution is surprisingly quiet, laidback, and
mature. Recognizing a good thing going on, he allows plenty of time for the
ambiguously romantic relationship between Mizushima and the real Yamazaki to
unfold. He juggles a gracious plenty plot points, yet Key is first and foremost a rom-com that excels at the rom.
character actor Teruyuki Kagawa is absolutely pitch-perfect as Yamazaki (assuming
Sakurai’s identity), conveying all his world weary soulfulness, while still
springing all his character’s revelations like the crafty pro he is. Likewise, Ryoko Hirosue (sort of the Japanese
Sandra Bullock, probably still best known internationally for her supporting
turn in the Oscar winning Departures)
is exquisitely demur and sensitive as the reserved Mizushima. Together, they develop some unusually fresh
and deep screen chemistry.
Unfortunately, Masato Sakai’s real Sakurai looks like quite the weak
link in comparison, but at least he delivers one memorable extra-base hit late
in the third act.
Even though Uchida maintains an appealingly
light and easy-going vibe, Key has
far more depth than the average comedy of any sub-genre. It is a film that
appreciates the awkward ways people relate to each other. Witty, romantic, and greatly satisfying, Key of Life is highly recommended for
general audiences. It is now available
on standard DVD from Film Movement.
Labels: DVD, Japanese Cinema, Ryoko Hirosue