“Antoki no Inochi” is a Stunning Cinematic Failure

Rating: 2.5/10

“Antoki no Inochi” (2011) is what you get when the producers, the screenwriters and the director think the audience is too shallow to appreciate the original material and conspire to dumb down the material to the point the film loses any meaning.

The movie is based on a novel by Masashi Sada of the same name. It tells a story of Kyohei Nagashima (Masaki Okada) and Yuki Kubota (Nana Eikura), who each try to overcome a dark personal story–Kyohei twice tried to kill a classmate before suffering a mental breakdown while Yuki contemplated suicide–while working for a company that cleans apartments of the deceased.

The fatal mistake of the “creative” forces behind this work was that they clearly missed the point of the book and adopted the film as a romantic melodrama. The message of the book, which ranks as one of the best I’ve read in years, was learning about the value of life by working in the world of the deceased as Kyohei’s recovers through Yuki’s uplifting attitude towards life. In the movie, though, Kyohei’s and Yuki’s personal histories are secondary to the cheap romance storyline, and none of the writers, the director or the actors bother to develop the meaning of the characters’ past experiences in the context of who the characters are today.

This results in an unintelligible mess. There are constant flashbacks to Kyohei’s fued in high school with a classmate he wanted to kill–which are faithful to the book–but this past isn’t relevant to the film’s plot or the character–which are not faithful to the book. I read the book yet barely managed to make the connection between the characters and their past; I defy anyone who hasn’t read the book to do the same.

The character development isn’t helped by the incompetent direction of director Takahisa Zeze, who is largely responsible for the inept pacing. The film goes into slow motion in scenes where nothing happens and skims through scenes that’s crucial for character development. Watching the film in the first half hour feels like taking a drive with someone who doesn’t know how to use the gas and the break properly.

Zeze also needs to learn subtlety. Each emotional scene is forced and hammered away as if we’re too obtuse to understand the scene’s importance. There’s the hackneyed “girl runs away but stops so the guy can chase and give a speech” scene. There’s also the “contents of this box is important so let me trip over to spill what’s inside” scene. At every critical moment, the director hits the clichés on cue. It’s hardly surprising, then, that he doesn’t know how to follow through on the little emotional moments that could have led to real depth.

There’s no sign of technical mastery either. The camera work borders on the dizzying because Zeze can’t make up his mind whether he wants to zoom into one character or show both characters; instead, he focuses on one but keeps on hopping from one to the next with each dialogue. Nor can he decide who should provide the voice-over; Kyohei begins the narrative, then the film ends with Yuki’s perspective, although neither says much worth saying.

The list of incompetence is staggeringly endless: the soundtrack is distracting, the flashbacks are handled with inept transition and Okada and Ekiura lack any chemistry to the point where one wonders whether any test screening was done.

Of the litany of problems that culminated in this unmitigated disaster, though, the unforgiveable sin is the fate of one of the leads. Without going into details, it’s fair to say that in the film, as in most romantic melodramas, a lead character meets an unfortunate fate. Such plot twist is concocted to shamelessly manipulate the audience’s emotions. And just as with the rest of the film, the twist is handled without any tact from the director or skill from the screenwriters.

I sat through this film stunned that a movie with can’t-miss material can be butchered so badly. I hated everything about this film. I hated the offensive pretentiousness of the film. I hated the characters who were stripped of depth. I hated the plot which was manipulative. But above all, I hated the people behind this film who were so cynical to believe it’s necessary to have romance end in tragedy rather than strength leading to hope in order to evoke a genuine emotional response from the audience. The book was about how life is wonderful and worth fighting for because it’s sad, exciting, hopeful and embarrassing all at once. The filmmakers are saying that’s not a message worth delivering. If so, I ask, what’s the point of adopting the book into a film? Because I certainly found no point in this meaningless cinematic trash.

“Antoki no Inochi” is currently in limited release throughout Japan and, if there’s any justice, will fade into oblivion quickly and quietly.


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