Sometimes independent films feel like undiscovered gems, and other times they feel like works that just aren’t quiiiite good enough to be popular on a meaningful level. Greatful Dead, a film out of the Japanese indie scene, strikes me as an example of the latter.
I chose to see this one, screening simultaneously with the Machete II premiere, rather than Machete II, because I prefer to forever think of Machete II as the 15 or so minutes of trailers and sizzle reels available online, the really wacky idea part, rather than suffer the inevitable disappointment that I imagine would come with being bored by a lady shooting bullets out of her tits.
So instead I went to see Greatful Dead (aka the much more awesome-sounding Japanese version, “Gureitofuru deddo”), a film from director Eiji Uchida, who was in attendance, along with lead actress Kumi Takiuchi. Emcee Marc Walkow told us all to congratulate ourselves for supporting Japanese independent films, which we did, before settling in for a film that had a lot of interesting ideas, but not much in the way of connections between them. Greatful Dead is a bit of a headscratcher.
Takiuchi plays Nami, who starts out as a young girl whose mother only cares about helping third world children and not Nami, and her father only cares about her mother, and not Nami. Eventually her mother runs off to the Third World and her father commits suicide. The abrupt “yadda yadda yadda he’s dead” way this was delivered was probably my favorite part of the film. We skip forward to Nami in her twenties, now plump-breasted and muscular legged (Takiuchi, in her first feature role, is almost distractingly attractive) but obsessed with spying on “solitarians,” those lonely people who have no friends and actively shun society.
Nami is obsessed with loneliness, and the idea of being born and dying alone (which she tells us numerous times via voice over). Apparently the aging, lonely elderly are a big issue in Japan, and theoretically the subject of the film. But then Nami becomes obsessed with a crotchety old man, which eventually leads to kidnapping, Cialis rape, and murder, and the loneliness theme gets muddled up with religion, obsession, double crosses, and weird fetishes in a way that doesn’t quite make sense and isn’t visually interesting enough to justify itself alone. It’s either too weird or not weird enough. The Japanese sure do like their gore though.
Like so many close-but-no-cigar indie films, the climax involves a lot of running and chasing without you being much invested in it, followed by a twist ending that sort of explains some of the plot that came before it, but not in a way that makes it more compelling.