Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Ikinai (1998)

There are so many specialist channels on satellite television -- more than I am ever likely to sample even out of curiosity (and one does wonder to whom some of them might appeal). However I do keep my beady eye on the various film channels of which there are a surprising number, although they have a tendency to abruptly disappear, since their finance remains a mystery. Most of those which are not subscription channels do carry an assortment of advertisements, which cuts up the viewing process into less pleasurable chunks. I therefore tend to ignore the various made-for-TV film channels, the so-called 'Movies for Men', and even the Horror Channel unless they are showing something which sounds irresistible (not often). An exception is made for Film Four, now that they have gone to Freeview with adverts, on those very rare occasions when they schedule something which has not already been available elsewhere ; it was a wonderful channel in its subscription days, but apparently insufficiently profitable.

I was surprised to come across a channel -- new to me and I have no idea how long it has been going -- called World Movies which not only shows mainly subtitled foreign films (there is the occasional Australian or US Indie in English), but also seems to have access to movies which are not available on DVD. The downside is that they have an intrusive logo and even worse allow for frequent ad breaks, although they do not appear to have any advertisers yet, without a clear title card to signify the end of one section and the start of the next. However, I am putting up with this in the short term and have been rewarded with some pretty obscure, but generally quite good, films in Japanese, Chinese, French, et. al.

The above Japanese movie which I watched yesterday is a typical case in point. Billed as "Can't Live", I was unable to trace it on IMDb without knowing any cast or filmmaker names, but the blurb sounded interesting. I now learn that the correct title is as above which apparently translates literally as 'cannot live' and that the Festival circuit title was "Suicide Bus". Produced by Takeshi Kitano's company, it was the first film for director Hiroshi Shimizu, who was an assistant director on earlier and later Takeshi projects and who has only directed one subsequent movie. The story concerns a diverse group of 10 men plus a perky female tour guide who gather to take a bus tour to Okinawa. Each of them wishes to die, for various reasons which emerge during the telling. They are heavily insured and know that the accident they have scheduled for New Year's Day on a treacherous stretch of road will receive a big payout to their heirs and/or creditors. However one of their original number, who has now been confined to a mental institution, gives his ticket to his young niece, rather than waste it, and the group reluctantly allow her to come along, fully accepting that she will need to die amongst them. One wonders here just how mentally ill her uncle must have been to offer his beloved niece a one-way journey!

For the next few days they behave as any tour group, visiting the expected sites, watching folksy troupes, taking group photographs, entertaining each other with their spectacular non-talents at a group dinner, and generally bonding. And only gradually does the cheerful young gal become aware of the group's ultimate destination. Even 'though this movie is unlikely to come your way in the foreseeable future, I will not spoil the ending, other than to say that it is as black and bleak as it could be, with a totally out-of-left-field denouement. I can well understand why it was thought a suitable project for Office Kitano and I thank the very flawed World Movie Channel for bringing it to my attention.
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