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Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit
Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit

Shota Matsuda and Takayuki Yamada in Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit.
  Japanese: 死亡預告
Year: 2008  
Director: Tomoyuki Takimoto  

Motoro Mase


Shota Matsuda, Takashi Tsukamoto, Takayuki Yamada, Riko Narumi, Jun Fubuki, Akira Emoto, Gekidan Hitori, Takashi Sasano, Yuta Kanai, Kazuma Sano, Haruka Igawa, Sansei Shiomi

  The Skinny:

Manga-based Ikigami is suspenseful and entertaining, and possesses a very promising concept. However, the film's sentimental drama isn't much better than your standard Japanese TV miniseries, and only hints at a more interesting and meaty movie to come. Let's hope they make that movie.

by Kozo:
Woohoo! Another based-on-a-manga movie! This trend is getting so extreme that movies based on manga should get their own dedicated cinemas, if not half of the "New Release" shelf at Japanese video rental stores. Created by Motoro Mase, Ikigami features a promising concept about a dystopian Japan where innocents must die to serve the greater good. However, Ikigami is less flamboyant than similar-seeming fanboy favorites like Death Note and Battle Royale, and features TV drama-like pathos and pronounced sentimentality instead of heady nihilism or over-the-top violence. Ikigami is somewhat sedate for a manga-to-film adaptation, but the intriguing concept and the occasional suspense are enough to entertain.

Shota "Son of Yusaku, Brother of Ryuhei" Matsuda stars as Kengo Fujimoto, a newly minted Japanese government official who delivers "ikigamis", or official letters informing citizens of their random selection for execution. Ikigami's citizen-murdering version of the Japanese government pushes the idea that unexpected death will encourage a more productive and prosperous society, and indeed the crime rate has lowered since the ratification of the Special Law for the Maintenance of National Prosperity. Now, a periodic lottery is held to condemn youths between the ages of 18 and 24 to death, with the sentence carried out via a radio-controlled capsule that's implanted in citizens at childhood. When the capsule goes off, the subject keels over and expires, and it isn't always a pretty sight.

Upon receiving the ikigami (or "death notice"), the condemned have 24 hours to live, and receive a free pass to do nearly anything they want short of committing a crime. If they do break the law during their last hours (e.g., go on a shotgun-toting rampage), their family is denied the government compensation money. If they quietly die, they're lauded for serving the state - though obviously, that's not much consolation for their families, or the condemned themselves. Ikigami follows Kengo as he hands out death notices to three individuals, with all three reacting differently to their death sentence. A rising musician (Yuta Kanai) bravely faces his death while making his debut, while a disaffected shut-in (Kazuma Sano) becomes even more distraught and twisted when his councilwoman mother (Jun Fubuki) attempts to use his upcoming death to gain sympathy votes.

In these first two cases, Kengo handles his job obediently but with uncertain emotions. He's not sure how to react to the affected, though he possesses a glimmer of compassion that compels him to consider doing more. Shota Matsuda cuts a striking figure as Kengo, but is sometimes too withdrawn to be a convincingly complex protagonist. Kengo is more of a witness in the film's early going, but eventually acts upon his instinctive disapproval of the National Prosperity Law and becomes more involved with his third ikigami recipient, a working class debt collector (Takayuki Yamada) who's about to buy a new flat for himself and his blind sister (Riko Narumi). The plot and themes here aren't much different than your typical weepy Asian drama, but Yamada and Narumi make a sympathetic pair, and the situations touch upon agreeable, if familiar emotions.

Kengo's third ikigami case also benefits from being the final one depicted in the film, as hopefully by then the audience has developed expectations or opinions towards the film's dystopian world. The film's darker details are potent ones; besides random executions, the Japanese government punishes people for "thought crimes" through radical and probably inhumane reeducation. The world of Ikigami seems near-totalitarian, and the film backs that up some effective details, like the frequent POV shots representing the omnipresent CCTV cameras, which watch over the people in a Big Brother-like fashion. The film portrays a questionably just society where individuals very lives could be forfeit to a dehumanized system. While a familiar enough theme, Ikigami presents an intriguing and human twist on the idea.

However, while there's rich material here, director Tomoyuki Takimoto doesn't completely capitalize. The films edgier themes take a backseat to life-affirming gestures and a pronounced sentimentality that could engender tears or audience alienation. Ikigami may be better in potential than in execution. This is an entertaining, though somewhat slight drama that feels like a set-up for a longer television drama that can better tell the story of this crazy Japan that'll actually kill its people. There's simply too much story to tell here. Unlike American superhero comics, manga frequently have complete stories with a beginning and end, so film adaptations - which try to compress dozens of volumes into just two hours - are understandably shadows of their original inspiration. That's certainly the case here, as Ikigami only hints at a greater, more interesting conflict to come. To get the rest of the story, what we really need is Ikigami 2. (Kozo, Reviewed at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, 2008)

  Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Edko Home Video
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
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