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April 27, 2010

Accuracy of Death

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Suwito rein: Shinigami no seido/Sweet Rain
Masaya Kakei - 2008
Innoform Media Region 3 DVD

The reaper in this film is not particularly grim, nor is he feared. In this case, death comes in the form of Mr. Chiba, who shows up to decide if the designated person is to die unexpectedly. He wears while gloves to prevent the living from expiring by an accidental touch. There are bargains to be made, though nothing as symbolic as a chess game. When Mr. Chiba shows up, it is constantly raining.

The film is comprises of three episodes, of Mr. Chiba with a young office girl who feels her life is not worth living, a young man who dedicates his life to the gangster who has taken care of him since childhood, and an older woman who operates her one chair barbershop in her little house by the sea. Mr. Chiba is accompanied by a dog, a black retriever, whom exchanges thoughts with him telepathically. Mr. Chiba has his own idiosyncrasies such as wanting to listen to music, "humanities greatest invention", every chance he gets, while displaying an inability fully understand colloquial speech.

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This is the kind of film that works in spite of the set up, even though it is never explained by Mr. Chiba is accompanied by the dog. What does work is the limited use of special effects, giving the film something a a visual equivalent to magic realism, such as the flower that wilts in Mr. Chiba's hand, the background outside a coffee shop that morphs into a flashback of the office girl, and the gathering of crows that show up when Mr. Chiba is around. The unusual element in the story, such as the several grim reapers who show up with their gloved hands, are treated either with light humor, or simply as matter of fact. The one part that doesn't work, at least for me, is a yakuza gun battle while "Silent Night" is on the soundtrack. Aside from not being clear about the intention here, although there are some Christmas decorations spotted in the background, the scene struck me as a reworking of a similar scene in John Woo's Face/Off with guns blazing to the song, "Somewhere, Over the Rainbow".

Mr. Chiba determines life or death for the people he spends a few days with based on whether they have fulfilled their purpose in life. It's a plot point that some might feel is severely underemphasised, which is to say, how is a fulfilled life determined, and who is entitled to make that decision? The original Japanese title translates as "The precision of the agent of death". What makes Mr. Chiba odd within the context of what he does, is his lack of understanding regarding the impact of his job, a point presented at the beginning of the film when he is sitting next to a young girl, who it is later revealed, is the one being mourned at a funeral.

Having Takeshi Kaneshiro as the grim reaper has quite easily reminded some viewers of this film of Brad Pitt's similar turn in Meet Joe Black due to his youthful appearance. Certainly the role is lighter, and more comic at moments, than turns in such films as Red Cliff. The Warlords, or House of Flying Daggers. For myself, the real treat to watching this film was seeing Sumiko (Junko) Fuji as the woman barber, living alone in an unspecified future, with her robot companion. Still attractive in her maturity, though not artificially so, Fuji was the top female star in Japanese films in the !960s through early Seventies. Even though she is not wielding a short sword, or showing off her skill in card games, Fuji still gets the winning hand at the end.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 27, 2010 12:38 AM