is the nation that brought us the hikikomori phenomenon and Nami is grateful,
so to speak. However, she is not interested in garden variety shut-ins. It is
the seriously cracked loners, or “solitarians” as she dubs them, that fascinate
her. Her unhealthy obsession will take on dangerous dimensions in Eiji Uchida’s
Greatful Dead (yes, that is how it is
which screens as part of this year’s Japan Cuts: the New York Festival ofContemporary Japanese Film.
parents were highly flawed. Her mother’s compulsive third world child
sponsorship never left her time for her own daughters. In contrast, their
father was only interested in her, so when she abandoned her family to live the
Mother Theresa lifestyle, it essentially killed him inside. Eventually, he
takes up with a seductive new mistress Akko-chan, but she hardly helps his
state of mind. At least he has a lot of money to leave Nami.
in her twenties, the privileged Nami consumes like mad, while her sister revels
in the ordinariness of her stable family life. Nami wants no part of it. She
prefers documenting the sad and sometimes twisted lives of her solitarians. Her
latest seems to hold special meaning for her. Mr. Shiomi was evidently once a
man of some position, but now he shuns his family, leading the sort of aggressively
anti-social existence Nami finds so charming. However, when Korean evangelical
Su Yong starts to reform and uplift Shiomi, it threatens to spoil Nami’s fun.
Extreme measures will be taken in response.
a way, Greatful asks which is the
stronger force, consumerism or Christian fellowship. Surprisingly, it treats the
latter quite fairly. However, it takes viewers to an existentially dark and
bloody place, like nothing one would ever see in Evangelical cinema. Still, Su
Yong is unquestionably the film’s most sympathetic and virtuous character,
played with deep sensitivity by Korean indie star Kim Kkobbi.
Kumi Takiuchi completely dominates the film, effortlessly transitioning from
eccentric kookiness to raging sociopathic ferocity. It is an unsettling
performance, because she shows the little girl inside Nami, lashing out for
attention. Likewise, Takashi Sasano is pretty fierce himself, convincingly
portraying Shiomi’s personal evolution and his sudden snap back into
brutishness, courtesy of Nami.
is absolutely chilling at times, but its morbid
sense of humor takes the worst of the edge off. It is quite cleverly
constructed and Uchida’s execution is unflaggingly tight and tense. It is not
what you would call “feel good,” yet Uchida someone leaves us some ambiguity to
clutch at. Highly recommended for those who take their horror-comedies
unsweetened, with a side order of social commentary, Greatful Dead screens tomorrow (7/18) at the Japan Society as part
of the 2014 Japan Cuts.
Labels: Japan Cuts '14, Japanese Cinema, Kim Kkobbi