Cult Japanese director Gakuryu (formerly known as Sogo Ishii, a longstanding influence on Quentin Tarantino) presents a world coming to an end. On a university campus the students separately rehearse a performance, discuss an urban myth and debate the future on an unborn child, but all are inconvenienced by their sudden unexplained deaths. Adapting the screenplay from his own play, writer Shiro Maeda’s dialogue is shot through with absurdist observations and deftly mixes dread with farcical comedy. We spend the first 20 minutes watching various students, teachers, café workers and doctors wander around a rural university campus, and chit-chat in annoyingly long mundane scenes. And then, one by one they start to faint, convulse, and die inexplicably, in patience-trying protracted death scenes. One particularly annoying character chokes and gasps for 5 minutes before dying…only to come to life again and then spend another 5 minutes dying.
Everyone else is a vehicle for weak attempts at drama and irksome social statements. Rather than grieve for the loss of their friends and family, each character is engulfed in their own self imposed ennui for life. While we spend some time with characters (more with those that live longer, for obvious reasons), we never get to really know them at all, the mysterious plague is never sufficiently explained and the entire enterprise becomes a waiting game to see who will keel over next and whether they will say anything clever, amusing or insightful on the way down. Maybe the pointlessness of it all is director Ishii and screenwriter Shiro Maeda’s point, but its delivery proves undeniably monotonous.
These movies all examine our humanity, fear of death and ability as a species to evolve to survive, and examine the lengths we’d go to for solace at the end. I guess this is what ‘Isn’t Anyone Alive?’ is looking to examine, but unlike even the more surreal or quirky films of the genre, this just doesn’t hold water for so many reasons it’s tough to know where to start. There is no structure to this film, no protagonists to root for. The characters swap around interchangeably, so a fairly interesting girl who appears to be a key character for the first 20 minutes suddenly dies and we are left to follow her underdeveloped friends for 20 minutes until they too die, and we are left to follow some random people they crossed earlier in a café and so on and so forth. The tone is all over the place, and later in the film juvenile humour prevails. We are invited to laugh at one dying character who believes his intestines are falling out of his ass, so walks around clenching his butt desperately, in several tasteless and horribly judged scenes.
Neither realistic nor cogently stylized, this crapfest moves along leaving the viewer with hopes that director Ishii will kill off each character quickly (at nearly two hours long, he doesn’t) and the damn thing will be over. Ishii’s inauspicious return makes me long for the old Sogo. It ends up too bloated and scattered to evoke much. I thought this film was terrible… I could see it was trying to make a satirical point about ‘today’s vacuous youth’ or whatever, but did it have to do it in a structureless, horrifically drawn out two hour+ feature??