Review: Isn't Anyone Alive? / Cert: 15 / Director: Gakuryu Ishii / Screenplay: Shiro Maeda / Starring: Eri Aoki, Kota Fudauchi, Keisuke Hasebe / Release Date: October 22nd
“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper,” wrote the poet T S Eliot. His lines would make a great tagline for this blacker-than-black comedy. The setting in an idyllic university campus, where laid-back students with fabulous hair while away their time discussing the minutiae of their lives and bickering about what party drinks to order. When one of them learns from her mobile phone of a crash on the subway (the driver mysteriously asleep or unconscious at the controls), the news barely troubles their leisured existence. But then, one by one, the students start coughing, having fits and dropping dead, and soon the beautifully landscaped campus is littered with corpses. Why is this happening? And what, if anything, should they do about it?
Based on an avant-garde play by Shiro Maeda, this isn't your conventional disaster movie. The whole thing is mounted in a deadpan style which can be quite off-putting until you get used to it, and the story, such as it is, drifts along inconsequentially from one vignette to the next. We're never quite sure what's causing the disaster, but an airborne virus seems plausible, and there are widespread rumours of biotech experiments on sublevel three of the university hospital (although a sober young doctor claims to have been on the spot at the exact moment when that particular urban myth was made up). One thing becomes increasingly clear – it's everywhere, and annihilation is unavoidable.
It's a daunting prospect, and the characters' responses are comically inadequate. Some try and fail to come up with meaningful last words (here's a tip, they need to be snappy). Another's main focus is on dying with his eyes shut because he's repulsed by the thought of someone closing them for him. One solemn-looking character leaves a taped message which turns out to be an ear-splittingly inept musical number. No one wants to die first, but then again no one wants to be left alone at the end.
Director Gakuryu Ishii makes no obvious attempt to engage your sympathies, but despite that you soon find yourself rooting for this bunch of slackers as they busk their way to doom. The ensemble cast play off each other with wonderful comic timing, and if you relish the humour of awkwardness and embarrassment, then you'll chortle your way happily through many of the scenes. Then, in its last moments, the movie shows you what has been going on outside the campus, and the sudden broadening of perspective has an almost shattering impact. Funny, touching and highly original, this has all the hallmarks of a future cult classic. Always assuming there is a future, that is.
Special Features: None