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The story is about a Grim Reaper, whose job is deciding whether or not
the 'subject' is ready for unexpected deaths. The movie is divided into
three episodes, first about an OL in her 20s, second about a yakuza in
his 40s, and the last about an old lady in her 70s. All the different
episodes seem to be unrelated, but connects spontaneously in the end.
Although the whole 'Shinigami' thing, which literally means 'death god' or 'Grim Reaper' is very common in Japanese culture, the concept somewhat reminded me of "Meet Joe Black", and the random encounter with other Shinigami reminded me of "City of Angels". However, I was relieved the story focused on the protagonist's gradual understanding of life rather than falling in love with his 'subjects'.
It has been a long time since I saw Kaneshiro Takeshi in a Japanese movie. He has been appearing in many epic Chinese/HK movies of late, and it was fun watching such 'S-class' actor in a Japanese film again. He played the innocent and composed personality of his character very well. I really liked the silent dog too. The subtitled conversation really adds to the fantasy in addition to the 'bridge and door'.
This film was exceptionally well directed. There were so many memorable scenes and advanced camera-work/angles. Even the special effects, other than the 'touch of death', were amazing considering Japanese budgets.
Personally, this movie didn't really make me ponder about life, so it may have failed in that aspect, but it was a story well told.
I watched this film in a sold out theater at the Japan Society in New York and rare is it that I would rather have watched this at home. The audience was laughing out loud at times, which was very obtrusive to me. There are funny moments, but the film is kind of schizophrenic in its approach. The story is about a Grim Reaper (the very good Takeshi Kaneshiro) whose job is to decide whether three separate people live or die. Of the three vignettes, the second, involving a Yakusa, is not good at all. It drags down the film somewhat. The first is very good, the third almost as good, so you have to sit through about a half hour or so of less than good cinema. I find the inclusion of the reaper's companion, the black dog who makes no sound but communicates nonetheless, to be annoying by the end. Also, the reaper is not up on his everyday slang. Why not? Doesn't he follow people around and spend time with them? I was baffled by that. Those lines caused big laughs in the theater, but I found them to be cheap laughs. Now, the film has great moments. The character of Kazue Fujiki is sweet and the third vignette has a little twist which, though I figured it out before it was voiced, was still pretty nice. So, it is a flawed, but worthwhile film. Takeshi Kaneshiro is a popular actor, and I've liked everything I've seen him in. I liked this too, but I felt it was somewhat uneven. A bit of it reminds me of the Nicholas Cage film "City Of Angels" and Brad Pitt's "Meet Joe Black". If you liked those films, this is better. I recommend it, but if you watch it on DVD, consider fast forwarding through the second part. The film becomes a nine, okay?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The first thing that comes screaming to your mind when you come to know
of this movie, is MEET JOE BLACK, yes in caps, and a nagging feeling
that it's a rip off / copycat coming some 10 years after that Hollywood
movie. Although this is based on the Japanese novel by Kotaro Isaka,
you can't help but to ponder upon the similarities between the two
And it seems that Death / Grim Reaper, besides having a liking for black suits (for obvious reasons), also have a liking for putting on pretty-boy faces. From Brad Pitt to Takeshi Kaneshiro here, the full house today was likely to be attributed to the many fan girls who were squealing their way through the movie each time Kaneshiro appeared on screen. I suspect if Death really looked like that, these girls would gladly spend 7 days with the good looking stranger, only to have him decide if they should fulfill their destiny and die, or be passed-over because of unfinished business. And there'll be a queue that will scream "Take Me, Please!"
So the Grim Reaper acts like a judge, taking his limited time in between getting to know the mark, with listening to music in record stores, one of his, and the pastime too of many peer Reapers. Kaneshiro calls himself Mr Chiba, and walks the mortal realm when he's given a mission of assessment, accessed through a door from the nether realms which opens up to the specific location where the mark is. And it really contains no surprise, even right from the start, where you'll know just whose door has Death come knocking upon.
Armed with a deathly, though temporal, touch, he has to cover his hands in gloves lest he accidentally puts someone into comatose, which becomes his weapon of choice in self- protection, and the protection of others. And to think that he has roamed our world enough to know the intricacies and antics of us human beings, Sweet Rain still contains enough juvenile jokes when he has to tussle with phrases unfamiliar to him, especially when they have double meanings, or make figurative references, and of course, the fan girls just love it when Kaneshiro provides his puppy dog look when he becomes confused and seeks clarification.
As a feature length movie, it's really made up of three distinct acts, and the middle one suffered through a whole emotional and narrative disconnect from the other two, with slow pacing and uninteresting yakuza characters to fill time. The main mark of this movie is Manami Konishi's Kazue Fujiki, a girl who works at the complaints department who is a classic down and out loner with few friends, no objective and goals in life, and keeps getting harassed by this middle aged man over the phone who persists in getting her to answer his queries, and strange requests.
I thought the strength of the movie was in the lengths it took to establish Chiba's relationship with Manami, though credit to the story that it wasn't a rehash of Meet Joe Black by the time the ending rolled over. Manami Konishi's portrayal was also a departure from her sprightly turn in Udon, but ventured close to her role in Retribution/Sakebi, but hey, Chiba hit the mark when he said she looked prettier when she smiled, given that she's brooding in the movie most of the time.
So I shan't spoil the story by recounting what happened in each act, but suffice to say that this movie is beautifully shot against a backdrop of rainy days which Chiba seemed cursed to work under each time he visits our world, but he's not lonely in his mission with the black pet mongrel who shadows him, and thankfully, doesn't speak out like what Hollywood would do, but communicate telepathically with Chiba, and through subtitles with us mortal folks.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The movie resembles Meet Joe Black with both the Grim Reaper being
males, in black suits and good-looking. Nevertheless, AOD stands on it
own with its though-provoking, at times humorous moments, which leaves
me deep in my own thoughts and my views on death even as I am writing
The careful details and the open to interpretation concept amazes me the most. The opening scene of a little girl and Grim Reaper (Takashi Kaneshiro) is sadly beautiful and opens the plot of a inter-related 3 acts which leaves you gripping yourself in your seat, asking if you will make the same choice as what Grim Reaper has made. Is death the initial option the solution to the subsequent unnecessary pain and suffering of Kazue Fujiki? Do you dare to own the power to control your own death in your own hands that is supposed to lie in the hands of Grim Reaper once you realise that you have to do all you can to protect the ones around you? Is death the final solution to all our problems when death is just another link to a series of events? To be able to fully comprehend your own understanding of death is the only solution to the ability to dream in this world that we live in?
With comparison to the opening scene where death is just about the wailing and the longing of being together, the story throws in a different aspect and view on the concept of death. As for the constant harassments it may seems in Act 1, just like what happens in our daily lives, may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
Takashi Kaneshiro gives the character an innocent yet moody touch with his own indulgence in music.Isn't that a true yet sad reflection of our modern society? I love the movie for its theme of death.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Many comments compare Takeshi Kaneshiro's role with that of Brat Pitt
and Nicholas Cage their earlier movies. To that, I like to add
Kaneshiro's own "Lavender" (2000), a movie from HK in which he plays an
angle, not the awe-inspiring variety but a rather lovable, playful,
Now, in his first Japanese role in the last 6 years, he plays Grim Reaper Chiba whose job is to make contact with "target" human beings scheduled for a sudden death (nothing to do with tennis matches) in 7 days, observe, and make a final judgment of whether to "proceed" or postpone. A few things we notice (or the director makes sure we notice) right away. First, every lead actors needs a side-kick (even Tom Hanks in "Castaway" has a volley ball) to talk to. What Chiba has is a black dog that is fully capable of human speech which, however, is represented by texts on a silent screen. You get used to it very quickly. Chiba talks normally to the dog.
There are a few other things. His touch withers plant and stuns humans into unconsciousness. He therefore often wears white gloves. This is also identification for his colleagues of whom we get to meet a few. He has never seen sunshine (which is not the case for his colleagues), for some reason. Yet another trait is Chiba's apparent inability to understand human emotions. This, coupled with some obvious communication problems, create comical situation that range from plain funny to subtly dark. But not understanding Japanese, I'm sure that quite a bit is lost in translation.
The movie is one of those three-story setups, but in three different time slots (past, present, future) three unrelated stories, at least initially. But the hints of the links are all there and I don't think it is the director's intention to craft convoluted twists. The focus is on the mood, the characters and how they interact with Chiba.
The first story is about a 27-year-old "OL" ("office lady" in Japan, sort of a "pink collar" worker) whose life has been a total failure. Every time she tosses a coin she always loses. There is a trace of romance here (to the extent that a Grim Reaper who has no human emotions is capable) but the main focus is how this girl grasps that one chance to go after what she really wants from life. For that, she is granted a reprieve the reason being that she has not yet fulfilled the objective of her life.
Refreshingly devoid of any repetition, symmetry or similarity is the second story about a mob boss facing a deadly showdown. But although the mob boss is the "client", it's his young protégé that is the true protagonist in this delightful grey (I wouldn't quite describe it as "black" not going far enough) comedy. The theme here is loyalty and betrayal. The ending is uplifting against all odds, the mob boss wins the shootout and bonds with the protégé. And there's a good twist in that although he is not killed in the shootout, Chiba takes him in he next day via a car accident, applying the same reasoning, but in the reverse direction his objective of life has been fulfilled.
The final story is futuristic, with humanoid robots that you can't even recognise as such. The robot is a maid to the protagonist, an old women who runs a barber shop in a quaint little house by the seaside. She recognizes Chiba right away for what he is and throws his favourite question what do you think about death? right back at him. She also has a strange request, for him to round up all the 7-year-old boys in town for a free hair cut at her shop. Everything eventually has an explanation, of course.
That's a general idea. The movie has not become one of the things it might have .thriller, suspense, mystery, Gothic. No, it is gently provoking, lightly teasing, casually amusing. It make no pretense of being profound but makes you think a little. The acting is all fine. The cinematography is pleasing. All in all, it's a movie that can be easily enjoyed.
I wonder whether it is really so or whether it only seems to me, but
the way I see TK’s Chiba prompts me the following interpretation: On
the one hand, shinigamis are immortal themselves (at least there was
nothing in the film to suggest the opposite), but this is a doubtful
blessing – just remember the limbo where TK’s character and his dog
have to spend their time in between ‘missions’. It’s a dreary grey
space where nothing happens, where nothing diverts the eye, where the
time stands still. I wonder whether shinigamis find this space restful,
or boring, or maybe just treat it with no emotion – but (once again, it
is very subjective) it seems to me that TK’s character finds it a
lonely place, or at least grows to find it a lonely place, and not a
very ‘justified’ place for him to be in, to that. What I mean is he
played a shinigami that evolves, changes, becomes more and more human
(just look at his mimics, listen to his intonation when he’s speaking).
What I see is his silent revolt against this limbo, and a sad
reconciliation to the facts – to each his own, a human being gets a
shortish earthly life full of emotion, mistakes, discoveries, and a
shinigami gets his sad uneventful immortality. It looks as if somebody
has robbed the shinigamis of something very important that Chiba begins
to feel and to look for. At the same time he knows he’ll never be able
to break through this fabric of his destiny.
Actually I see the film not as a chain of interconnected episodes, and not as the life story of the girl who rises from an ordinary girl of the crowd to a celebrity and then sinks into oblivion again, gaining maturity and understanding of things. I see the film as two major stories (the girl’s and the shinigami’s) that, though they develop along different lines, lead the viewer to the same conclusion. What really matters is the ability to understand, to love, to forgive, to look at the world with one’s eyes and mind open, to care, to be thankful to life for all the challenges it presented, to hope. Just remember the scene where she and Chiba are standing and looking at the peaceful sunlit landscape – it needs no words, it’s like an awakening (satori?). I think it is not by chance that at this particular moment Chiba finally sees the sun he longed for, for him it’s like a short but a very meaningful breakthrough, moment of freedom.
There’s one thing more I’d like to mention. I wonder, why the dog? What I mean is Chiba gets his orders through a dog, the dog is like an intercom channel connecting Chiba and some other higher being (beings?). Does the dog symbolize the fact that gods are beyond all things human? Or does it symbolize the fact that THERE ARE NO GODS but just a blind law of life, blind to its purpose as all the world of nature (what a sad mockery!)? Or is the dog a symbol of loneliness? What also prompts itself to me is an unexpected and maybe far-fetched analogy between Chiba and Faust (Chiba is more or less like Faust who’s through to his goals – immortality, power, knowledge that would make him godlike; though Faust was craving for these gifts, and Chiba is shown as already possessing them, and not of his own free will). If you remember, when Faust first asks for all these, a black dog comes to his side. In the Christian tradition a black dog stands for the devil. It’s very unlikely that the scriptwriter did it on purpose, but for me the allusion is there, and very striking. By the way, the final episode that I’ve already mentioned, their standing together and looking at the world, brings to mind the words of Faust when he asks the time to stop at that most perfect moment, recovering the living soul with these words (and no dog by his side any more!). By the way, it’s not by chance that it’s a woman who makes Chiba see through to all this, like Faust’s Margaret. It seems to me that Chiba is a kind of Faust ideal reversed, working to getting back to being human.
By the way, in the European folk archtypes rain stands for death. If one dreams of those who passed away, they are often seen wet through in the dreams; so the dead in our psyche come from the rain. Remember that when Chiba comes to earth it’s always raining? And mind that it finally stops raining. A coincidence? Hardly ever.
I certainly won’t claim that the makers of this film use these ideas consciously. The film is also very Japanese at that (the categories of wabi, sabi, shibumi, karumi and fueki ryuko are there all right). But in my opinion a good film touches some strings of heart and draws analogies visible for people with different backgrounds, of different cultures, be it done consciously or not. A good film is rich in meanings, tints and hues. I believe “Shinigami-no Seido” has it and is one of such films.
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