Emotional neglect is a significant problem in Asia, one that has seen the issue become prevalent on a thematic level within much of Asian cinema. So Yong Kim broached the issue with severity in the serene Treeless Mountain, Third Windows filmography regularly visits emotional strife using it as a jumping off point with Sion Sono’s bewildering Love Exposure and Himizu and the label’s first release of 2015, Greatful Dead.
Nami (Kumi Takiuchi) has an awful childhood, with a Mother dedicating all her time and affection to needy children on the other side of the world and a father who dotes on his wife, ignoring all else. The very same Mother abandons her family to be with these children in need leaving Nami and her older sister with a void in their lives, a void the young Nami tries to fill by violently assaulting her fellow students and splurging on the home shopping network to get the attention of her Father. With both strategies failing, all she has is the neglect of home life. Eventually her older Sister moves away from the family home and later still her father commits suicide, leaving Nami alone with her inherited fortune.
Years pass by and Nami has become the apotheosis of loneliness, spending her days being served by her staff and stalking the Tokyo cityscape for people she has labelled solitarians – people who have gone crazy in their loneliness. Nami gleefully surveys the city with her agenda unswervingly intact, even her sister who “selfishly” abandoned her in the past attempting to re –establish a connection or her favourite solitarians turning up dead don’t faze her addiction. Even though Nami is stalking the down and outers, she still maintains a degree of cute. Her body language is open, often skipping with a beaming smile of satisfaction constantly tattooed across her face. This rich characterisation by Takiuchi carries the film to the halfway mark with ease.
While it does stagnate a little in the middle third it does have a secondary arc ready to inject life, the instigator of this adrenaline boost is Kim Kkobbi. Kkobbi plays Christian volunteer Soo-Young who visits the elderly, reading them passages from the Bible as part of a community outreach programme. Kkobbi visits Nami’s favourite Solitarian Sanjuro (Takashi Sasano) turning him from the dour old man who drove his family away into an altogether more accepting person, ending his run as a Solitarian. This change prompts a change in Nami, no longer is she the twistedly cute Amelie parallel. Her morbid concept of ownership awakens a violence that sees Greatful Dead refocus on the home invasion.
If that extended synopsis didn’t paint a vivid enough picture, Greatful Dead escalates like few others. This intensifying from a girl ‘people-watching’ in a public park with an infrequent spattering of forced entry to a violent woman battling to the death with Tokyo’s most insane vagrant by her side. As a by-product of this battle the film dips its toe into sexual violence, the context of which is a little difficult to swallow. Evolving from a super unconventional whimsy to an enjoyably debauched battle to the death. For the sake of captions, the most fitting description for this whole escapade would be Amelie meets Battle Royale; few other lines can paint an accurate picture of how surreal Eiji Uchida’s Greatful Dead can be.
With a film embodying such divergent traits there is a real risk that the result would stretch the limits of plausibility. While weird violence is the central conceit behind the execution of the film, let’s not forget that this is also a film about a girl disturbed by a starvation of affection. That thematic through line may seem like a stretch given the presence of rape and hyper violence, but appearances can be deceiving. A final scene shared between Nami and Sanjuro with the icy fingers of death hovering over both scarred combatants is given a renewed emotional resonance through the return of the ubiquitous lack of emotional neglect. To truly understand insanity is an achievement attained by few. Third Window has started 2015 on fine form with this bizarrely touching pseudo-slasher black comedy.
- DVD Bonus Features: Interview with the Director
- DVD Specifications: 5.1 Surround Sound, Anamorphic Widescreen w/removable english subtitles
GREATFUL DEAD IS OUT NOW ON THIRD WINDOWS FILMS ON BLU-RAY AND DVD