Greatful Dead (2013)

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Nami (Kumi Takiuchi) is a lonely girl. She’s been lonely most of her life, and now spends her time watching other solitary people and keeping a diary of their movements. The latest subject that catches her eye is elderly Mr. Shiomi (Takashi Sasano), but Nami’s viewing experience is tainted when Mr. Shiomi starts enjoying the company of a young Christian volunteer, Su Yong (Kkobbi Kim). Nami isn’t pleased by this turn of events, and decides to put things “right”.

Director Eiji Uchida, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Etsuo Hiratani, has crafted a wonderful film for fans of the slightly bizarre. It’s full of amusing moments, without ever feeling forced, and then takes a turn in the second half that attempts to twist and defy expectations. Despite a revelation during the finale that most people should see coming a mile away, it largely succeeds.

Takiuchi is great in the lead role, innocent and mysterious until she starts to reveal her angry side. Sasano is also very good, starting off as a crotchety old bugger until he starts to enjoy the pleasant company of a young woman. Kim doesn’t have nearly as much to do, but her character serves as the main instigator of change, which means that her present is felt throughout the second half of the movie even when she’s nowhere to be seen.

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As well as everything that’s happening on the surface, Greatful Dead is a surprisingly poignant movie throughout. Okay, maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising. The title of the movie hints at a person or persons happy to be away from life. Nami seems to embrace a life of loneliness, which is what she looks for in others, but perhaps that is just a brave face that stays in place because she’s so used to wearing it. Or perhaps she really DOES prefer things that way, especially after occasional visits to the home of her sister remind her of just how unhappy anyone striving for a normal and “boring” life can be.

Greatful Dead is about love, loneliness, obsession and much more. Uchida is a smart, competent director who crams a lot into scenes that don’t always feel as if they’re saying much. He may not have the best audio or visual style on display, but he brings everything together nicely to create a sweet, gentle and thought-provoking piece of work. With a bit of violence, too.

DIRECTOR: EIJI UCHIDA
WRITER: EIJI UCHIDA, ETSUO HIRATANI
STARS: KUMI TAKIUCHI, TAKASHI SASANO, KKOBBI KIM
RUNTIME: 97 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: JAPAN

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

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