Isn't Anyone Alive?

Isn't Anyone Alive?

**1/2

Reviewed by: David Graham

Like death itself, Isn't Anyone Alive is a messy, unpredictable and abrupt experience that unfortunately - and ironically - takes far too long to get to the point. Gakuryu Ishii's bizarre adaptation of what is probably a deliciously absurd stage play skewers the petty foibles of today's youth, but the director's clean, reserved style fails to exploit both the potential comedy and the drama inherent in a premise where people are dropping like flies from a mystery disease. As with last year's Perfect Sense, the muddled tone and faux-profound observations make for a conflicting and frustrating experience, enlivened by enthusiastic performances and some delightfully deadpan moments of tragic hilarity.

On a near-deserted university campus, a brittle exchange between a pregnant woman, her ex-lover and his fiance is interrupted by the random deaths of some of their neighbors. Meanwhile, some researchers seem to be working on a secretive project, a young group prepares a dance routine as a present to a friend, and a self-satisfied pop-star draws admiring glances from fawning girls; all of them are soon to be afflicted with this unprovoked but indiscriminate mortality. As the reality of their situation dawns on the individuals, they react in a variety of alarming and amusing ways, some looking for selfish connection regardless of who it's with while others are more concerned with what their last words should be despite the fact that no-one is going to be around much longer to remember them.

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Opening with brightly lit, unhurried scenes of coolly charged dialogue between slyly gender-stereotyped characters, Ishii effortlessly establishes how chaotic people can be no matter how orderly or civilised their lives and society might appear. The dialogue lampoons modern culture nicely, with talk of urban legends and heart-throbs de jour giving the characters a universal appeal that helps drive the thought-provoking banality of their impending demise home. Ridiculous preoccupations become amplified when they realise how little time they have left, and the unifying factor of their situation allows some of them to veer off into anarchy and even homicidal indulgence, as with one girl who ambiguously puts people out of their misery but seems to derive a little too much pleasure from the practice.

The script forces the viewer to consider what they would do given such a short lease of life; panic? Seek or provide comfort? Address unfinished business? Many of the characters are shown to have a sympathetic maternal fixation in their final moments, a sweet touch that anyone should be able to relate to. The mundanity of the apocalypse is also effectively conveyed, as some people pursue a return to nature while others cling to their modern lifestyle. The notion of the boy who cried wolf correlates well with the urban myth theme, while the contrasting need for contact and solitude leads to one pleasurably delicate moment where a young waiter barters with a nihilistic loner about the distance she'll allow him to follow her at as they wander off towards the sea.

Ishii's style unfortunately squanders some of the script's satiric potential; his episodic, theatrical approach is a little too dry, while a random soundtrack intrudes on the atmosphere and fails to establish an appropriate tone, even building to epic post-rock for an apocalyptic finale that's impressively low-key but still underwhelming, feeling like an out-take from a more serious-minded movie. Arresting images occasionally flit across the screen, while the chemistry between the actors lifts some of the scenes, but for the most part the film feels overlong and aimless: when one character concludes 'I don't know what to make of this,' you may well concur.

Isn't Anyone Alive is a mildly diverting but mediocre experience overall; it's not funny enough or as committed to its characters and intriguing premise as it could have been. Ishii has made some confounding stylistic decisions, with overly long takes that perhaps pay tribute to the play but aren't quite as stimulating for a cinema audience as they might be for theatre-goers. Lovers of Eastern kitsch will get a kick out of the many memorably silly moments, and more cerebral sci-fi fans might enjoy this less sensationalist take on doomsday, but many viewers will be left scratching their heads and stifling yawns.

Reviewed on: 07 Jul 2012
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Multiple unexplained deaths inspire absurd comedy.

Festivals:

EIFF 2012

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