Archive for August 10th, 2012

Kaiji Ito is nearing 30 years of age and he has never achieved anything in his life. He’s stuck in a dead end job at a convenience store and he likes to gamble his money away. When a mysterious debt collector woman named Endo and her cronies turn up at Kaiji’s house, he finds out that because his friend has fled and hasn’t kept up with his payments for a loan plus the fact that Kaiji acted as his guarantor, he has now been lumbered with the loan. What was once an initial loan of 300,000 yen has now ballooned to a whopping 2 million yen due to interest . He doesn’t have that money to pay back the loan so he is given an option where he can erase all of his debts in one single night. He has to take part in a special gambling event for a company named Teiai on a cruise ship along with other losers of society who have large debts. The game he has to play on the ship is simple – rock, paper, scissors using a set of 12 cards. Each participant is given 3 special stars to wear on their shirts (each star is worth 1 million yen). Each game they lose they also lose a star. If a participant manages to keep hold of all 3 stars and get rid of the 12 cards then they win. If you lose then you’re branded permanently for life on your shoulder with the company’s logo and have to work for them as a slave with a crappy wage in building a massive underground bunker. That’s exactly the scenario which happens to Kaiji when his gambling night on the ship ends up with him losing. Not willing to do backbreaking work for Teiai for the rest of his life, Kaiji and some of his fellow participants are given another challenge which is called Brave Men Road in which they can win back their freedom but can Kaiji defeat the odds especially when the slimy company man Tonegawa has a few tricks up his sleeve…..

Based on a popular manga, Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler is ultimately a movie about the classes – rich vs poor where it is seen that the rich is ruthlessly exploiting people without much money for their own perverse pleasures: in this case the elite are seen taking bets on who will survive or die during the challenges. It’s quite a unique look at how an unscrupulous company is seen to manipulate and control the poor and needy. They like to dangle a golden carrot in front of a person with the premise of untold riches just to give them a small ray of hope before slamming the door shut in their faces when they lose and taking great satisfaction in their failure. This isn’t a proper gambling movie per se, it’s more of a series of challenges which gets even more fiendish as the movie progresses. The 2nd challenge which sees participants having to walk across a girder at night from one high rise building to another in the middle of a storm with the added bonus of not being able to touch the girder with their hands as it’s been electrified is gripping to watch. The other challenges that Kaiji has to face are quite exciting to see too. At times this movie reminded me a little bit of the devious games seen in the Liar Game drama although the games in this movie are easier to understand. Toya Sato’s directing is great and I like the way he notches up the tension in certain scenes.

Tatsuya Fujiwara is OK as Kaiji Ito when he’s not overacting. An example of this is when he’s drinking beer or yelling at the top of his voice when something goes against him. Somehow I can see his acting will grate on some viewers although you do root for him as he’s the underdog taking on the big fish of the company. Perhaps the OTT acting is meant to copy the way the manga was written? Ken’ichi Matsuyama has a small part to give us a Death Note reunion with Fujiwara. Teruyuki Kagawa’s role as the over confident villain Tonegawa adds to the solid cast for the movie.

An entertaining and enjoyable thriller despite the over-acting.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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