Writer/director Kenji Uchida's newest film, KEY OF LIFE, is a crisply written, adroitly directed, beautifully acted little story that is a comedy on the surface, but does not fail to show the other side of the infamous masks of comedy/tragedy. Though it is long (in excess of two hours) the story is presented in such a fine overlapping episodic way that it seems to whiz by to the final moments.
The film opens with a business meeting in which we meet Kanae (Ryôko Hirosue), a 34-year- old magazine editor who announces boldly that she is getting married in two months. Without a candidate for a husband she engages the help of her fellow workers to help her search for the right man during a rather narrow time frame. We next meet Sakuari (Masato Sakai), a 35- year-old aspiring actor who is jobless, living in squalor, and has just failed a suicide attempt. Then we meet Kondo (Teroyuki Kagawa), a wealthy successful hit man carrying out his latest hit. After their simultaneously acts Sakurai and Kondo end up going to the same public bathhouse: Kondo slips on a bar of soap, sustains a concussion, is taken to a hospital where he discovers he has complete amnesia. The somewhat desperate Sakuari switches locker keys, and in effect switches identities with Kondo, of course not realizing that he is stepping into the identity of a hit man. Kanae visits the hospital where her father (who expects his daughter to marry soon) is gravely ill - the same hospital where Kondo is recovering. Fate is such that the two meet. How a failed actor takes on the role of a hit man without much success, and a hit man gains employment as an actor who can convincingly play gangster parts, and how the lovesick Kanae connects with Kondo and helps him try to regain his memory forms the rush to the surprise ending of the story.
There is enough social commentary on relationships and what is love, what is acting, and what is ethical that makes this little film gleam. It is an excellent film from Film Movement and should enjoy success in the art houses. It is a breath of fresh air from the current clutter of over the edge CGI 'dramas'! Grady Harp, December 13
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