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by Jay Seaver

"Very much just inspired by the novel."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I get the impression that Yusuke Yamada's novel "Live" could be made into a fairly successful movie if the filmmakers had some resources to work with; the story is nothing revolutionary, but it's the sort of basic young adult adventure that American studios have been betting big on. In this case, though, it wound up in the hands of Noboru Iguchi and with a budget low enough to just reference the novel rather than properly adapt it.

In the book, Naoto Yamura is the hero; the guy with the same name in the film (Yuki Yamada) is an entitled little twerp who initially doesn't pay any attention to the package he gets containing a copy of Live, a cell phone, and a directive to follow instructions or his mother dies. He arrives at the "starting line" to find about thirty others in the same situation, notably including Shinsuke (Yuki Morinaga) and Runi (Ito Ono), fans of the book; gymnast Akari (Mari Iriki), and kickboxer Tamaki (Mitsuki Koga). The book contains clues on how to proceed and hints of the lethal challenges and weapons to be found along the way. The whole thing is being broadcast online, and only the winner saves his or her loved ones.

Not actually being familiar with the book or the film's reception in Japan, I can't say that much about whether Iguchi's metatextual take on the material helps or hurts it. For all I know, this may be the most interesting possible take on a route but popular story. Export seems to hurt it, as some moments assume a familiarity with the source material that Iguchi's western fans won't have, and while there's an argument to be made that the movie is satirizing game-like linear plots and audience addiction to violent media, it's far more example than commentary.

But what really bugs me about Live is that Iguchi only seems able to direct action sporadically. His specialty had always been the crazy idea for an action scene that surprises the viewer with its outrageousness - and there are a few of them in here, especially when characters put on things best described as "chainsaw gauntlets" - but he's not nearly as good at the execution. It's at its worst when he's got a couple of girls capable of doing some gymnastics in one scene; he'll just show them flipping around near each other like that's supposed to be exciting, even though there really isn't any tension to the scene. Something's happening but it's not accomplishing anything.

A lot of the movie is like that, full of silly material that doesn't make much sense, but does well enough in having activity fill the screen that the audience might be tricked into thinking something is happening beyond a bit of seed and violence. The fact that Iguchi is so guileless and cheerful in his exploitation - he seems to get the same joy from pretty girls and fake blood as his target audience - helps some, as you can see that he's having fun making the sort of movie that he wants to see, especially if you like those things too. It's probably the best way to approach the thing; before the festival screening, the director encouraged the audience to yell out for butts, blood, and imminent danger, and that can be sort of fun in a crowded room.

It doesn't leave much for the cast to do besides run from place to place and recite a few words that enhance the plot. It's not a bad group, just mostly inexperienced and unchallenged, although Yuki Yamada deserves some credit for making Naoto a genuinely obnoxious little turd at the start but dialing back to bearable as the movie goes on. He shares most of his scenes with Yuki Morinaga and Ito Ono, although Ono struggles to make an impression for herself while Morinaga sometimes seems right out of his first high-school play. Meanwhile, Mari Iriki may not give the best performance, but it's one of the most enthusiastic and capably physical, which counts for a lot when the movie desperately needs a little screaming insanity.

She's not the only one to provide it, but for being the sort of film that relies on eccentricity and gleeful b-movie love, "Live" has far too few what-the-heck moments. Since this sort of "race" movie is a genre unto itself, it really needs to be more clever or well-executed to stand out.

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originally posted: 08/13/14 13:00:33
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Directed by
  Noboru Iguchi

Written by
  Noboru Iguchi

  Yuki Yamada
  Ito Ôno
  Yuki Morinaga
  Mari Iriki
  Suzuka Morita
  Airi Yamamoto

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