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Chasing World, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Deserves more running from than running to."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Parallel universes could very easily become the new post-apocalyptic future if given a chance to catch on. After all, it takes even less to build one of those and say it's a science fictional milieu - where the apocalyptic movies would require beat up locations a parallel Earth can look just like ours, maybe with a little cheap CGI to add differences. So you can get movies like "Chasing World", not-bad little sci-fi adventures done on a budget.

The film opens with several people dying sudden and bizarre deaths; a news report says they're all named Sato. Tsubasa Sato (Takuya Ishida) isn't terribly concerned; Sato is the most common name in Japan, after all - sister Ai (Mitsuki Tanimura) has been in a non-responsive state for as far as he can remember, and father Teruhiko (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) is a pretty useless drunk. And he's constantly being chased by would-be yakuza and former childhood friend Hiroshi (Shunsuki Daito), but if Tsubasa has one skill, it's running and escaping. He'll need it - when Hiroshi and company finally catch him, they suddenly disappear - although from their perspective, he's the one who disappears. He soon finds out he's somehow slipped into a parallel world, where for the past week the King of Japan has been running a "Death Chase", with everyone named Sato the target. Here, Ai is up and about, and Hiroshi is not a jerk... But there are "its", as in a game of tag, trying to round Satos up, killing anyone who tries to escape.

Screenwriter/director Issei Shibata is working on a fairly limited budget, but he does manage to squeeze a fair amount out of it at certain points. Takuya Ishida or his stuntman does some pretty neat tricks as he runs, so the foot chase scenes are more fun and visually interesting than one might expect. The "its" are a simple, yet effectively creepy design: The hooded jackets that overlap masks that suggest a too-wide smile with glowing, unblinking red eyes manage to look both practical and threatening without being overly elaborate, and positing that the individual "its" would decorate their masks is a nice touch. Those foot chases can't last the entire movie, but Shibata stops short of them becoming tiresome.

Sadly, there are other points where he is clearly hitting a budgetary and creative wall. As nifty as the masks on the street are, the one used for the King looks like it came straight from one of the more embarrassing early episodes of Doctor Who or Ultraman (imagine Stormtroopers looking fantastic and Darth Vader making the audience snicker with his every appearance). As unreal as the King's massive castle looks from the outside, that CGI creation is grand and kind of beautiful, and the inside looks like an empty soundstage.

And, dear lord, the exposition. For all the energy the movie has with people running around and doing acrobatic moves to avoid each other, the second half frequently grinds to a painful halt with characters stopping to explain every little bit of backstory, and there are times when it's very clear Shibata should have stopped while he was ahead, as he winds up dumping contradictions on the audience as much as explanations. And the end is more than a bit maddening - it starts out as a nice gotcha to get the audience to the credits on an up note, but it just seems to go on ten time longer than it actually does.

The cast isn't bad, mostly young and energetic and generally good enough to communicate what they're feeling without the script actually coming out and saying "I'm not going to be a coward any more!" as it all too often does. Maybe Akira Emoto is a little disappointing, as I know I've seen him in good things before (he was the title character's father in Memories of Matsuko, for instance), and he's way too laid-back as Ai's pervy doctor.

"Chasing World" can be forgiven a lot for being high-energy and frequently making a lot out of fairly little, but a movie can only shoot itself in the foot so many times before that's what you come out of it remembering.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17588&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/14/08 15:36:49
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

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