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Accuracy of Death
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by Jay Seaver

"Reminiscent of one of the better Burton-Depp collaborations."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Those who have lost a loved one suddenly may take issue with this film's premise - that a Grim Reaper has allowed it because that person has fulfilled their life's purpose. Still, it might be some small comfort to believe that the Reaper who made that judgment is someone akin to Takeshi Kaneshiro' Chiba.

Grim Reapers, we're told at the start, do not actually kill people, and they're not involved with cases where death is a result of age or disease. They spend a few days examining someone's life and then decide "proceed" or "suspend" depending on what they've seen. We follow Chiba in three cases over the years. In 1985, he meets Kazue Fujiki (Manami Konishi), a call center employee who has lost everybody she has loved and now has a stalker calling customer service and asking for her specifically. In the present day, he judges a yakuza (Ken Mitsuishi) who is at odds with his fellow gangsters over using children to push drugs and also keeps a watchful eye on would-be younger brother Akutso (Takuya Ishida). Finally, in 2028, an old hairdresser (Sumiko "Junko" Fuji) pegs him for a Grim Reaper and has an odd favor to ask of him before she goes.

Supposedly, the movie would not have been made without Takeshi Kaneshiro's participation (original novelist Kotaro Isaka was reticent about a film version), and it is a wonderful piece of casting. Kaneshiro is handsome, yes, and brings a wonderful guilelessness to Chiba. What very easily could be groan-worthy moments as Chiba fails to understand figures of speech are instead full of innocent charm. He is anything but cold as he goes about his job, playing his immortal being not as jaded but instead as interested in everything around him. Just watching Chiba listen to music is a little delight.

He and director Masaya Kakei also tend to bring out the best from the rest of the cast, too. The first act, where Chiba spends time with Manami Konishi's Kazue, is charming throughout. There is something very small and withdrawn about Kazue initially, while Chiba only seems to appreciate humanity on a superficial level, and there's almost something romantic going on between them that makes both grow before Chiba passes his judgment. Both supporting actors in the second act are standouts, with Ishida not quite drowning out the rest as an angry youth and Mitsuishi impressing with some quiet struggling between definitions of honor. Sumiko Fuji (a popular action heroine in the sixties and early seventies) is a sparkplug in her segment, imparting some wisdom to Chiba without doing anything close to lecturing.

The world Chiba inhabits is whimsical yet grounded. There are bumpers to each segment with pathways high above the city, and Chiba's companion is a somewhat sarcastic telepathic dog (who thankfully doesn't have a human voice; his thoughts appear as subtitles). Chiba meets other reapers on a regular basis, and their interactions are odd but genuine. And though each of the time periods has a distinctive look, the filmmakers are careful not to engage in too much kitsch when creating their 2020s or recreating the 1980s.

Kakei and company do bring a somewhat light touch to the story, but it works pretty well. The messages of the film are familiar but well-said, applying to us mortals just as well as they do Chiba. The structure works well in that none of these storylines would likely work stretched to the full length of the movie, although the threads tying them together are sometimes a little more obvious than they might need to be.

"Accuracy of Death" (aka "Sweet Rain") could have been gothy slop (I must admit that I saw the "soulful incarnation of death" imagery and descriptions and initially tried to think of ways to avoid it, even though it was all over the schedule), but ends up a pretty pleasant discovery.

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originally posted: 07/12/08 01:25:29
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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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