A I Amok (PG13)
Starring Takao Osawa, Kento Kaku, Alice Hirose, Takanori Iwata, Masahiro Takashima
Directed by Yu Irie
Boy, talk about an almost perfect timing.
A I Amok is relevant because it's about a big-scale health crisis with people suddenly dying in Japan, the system going haywire, things breaking down and widespread fear and panic ensuing. Problem is, it's all caused by the wrong thing. Instead of the pandemic virus raging now, it's artificial intelligence that's wreaking havoc here.
Can you imagine? If this was, say, V I Amok — standing for Virus Invasion Amok – this flick would've overtaken Contagion as the must-see movie of our viral virus age.
What we get here, though, is a generic Japanese conspiratorial thriller that basically hates cold, heartless machines, distrusts central power and looks Minority Report-ish. A slick, easily predictable and typically overstretched one that's generally watchable but kinda dopey being about a threat which, right now, nobody is concerned about. Since, overnight, Public Enemy No. 1 today has changed from a computerised one to a microscopic one.
Meaning, by untimely comparison, this film — written and directed by Yu Irie (Memoirs of a Murderer) — just seems so yesterday. Like harping about the latest handphone when the whole world has moved on to the newest hand sanitiser. Who cares about the damn phone, right?
Anyway, the main guy here, a genius scientist named Kosuke Kiryu (Takao Osawa), does a lot of running, hiding and running again from the cops like he's training for the Fleeing Fugitive gold medal at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Well, the definitely-maybe Olympics judging by the way things are heading.
He's goes into fugitive overdrive because he's the dude who invented an incredible “medical A I” to which people surrender all their personal details, vital records and private accounts to basically let a big-brain computer programme run their lives in the way Fitbit seeks to dominate the way we exercise.
This thing can administer medication, decide treatment, dictate critical surgical procedures and even take over operating theatres. Which clearly isn't a good idea when folks drop dead like flies here — even the Japanese prime minister dies — as the inhuman A I messes about with pacemakers inserted into human chests, among other equally murderous deeds. Without warning, the system goes nuts and decides that the weakest members of society who are a burden on the nation must die right now.
The good inventor has exiled himself in a tropical island after the death of his cancer-stricken wife and co-creator of their miraculous A I who couldn't be saved by her own creation due to government bureaucracy but still maintained her humanitarian outlook. “I hope it's approved one day so it can help people who are in pain,” she said altruistically before conking off.
Years later, after his invention has been officially approved and is ruling the healthcare of everyone in the country, Kiryu comes back to Japan with his little daughter to accept an award from the big-data institution that stores everybody's personal info in a blatant display of mind-numbing subjugation.
It's the year 2030, but you can't really tell because it looks just like 2020. Okay, the big artificial brain that talks like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey plonked in the centre of a huge white, antiseptic server room here looks somewhat futuristic. Me? I thought it's a gigantic decorative light bought from Ikea.
Of course, we know that this giant banana is just sitting there waiting to be hacked to a tomato like a hot potato. Suddenly, when the AI goes rogue and starts attacking people, Kiryu, finding himself set up as Japan's most dangerous terrorist, flees from the cops to find some quiet untraceable spot to re-code his programme with his trusty laptop which he amazingly doesn't lose even when jumping off a boat.
He's racing against time because his daughter is locked in the cold server room and is slowly freezing to death. The only smart person helping him is his brother-in-law, Satoru Nishimura (Kento Kaku), the young, neatly-attired head of the big-data institute who's iffy in the way young, neatly-attired people are often iffy these days.
Now, the most exciting thing in this movie is this chase. Somehow, the police, led by another young hotshot boss, Makoto Sakuraba (Takanori Iwata), also have their own secretive amazing A I — something called 100 Eyes which actually isn't a country-music song.
This nefariously intrusive software, logged into a scary network of CCTVs, dash cams, mobile phones and everything remotely tech, pursues its target, Kiryu, like Will Smith in Enemy of The State, through packed streets, back alleys, sewers, basically anywhere in Japan all the way to nuke-site Fukushima.
Which is another sign how wary this story is about misguided state-controlled futurism. For good measure, it also throws in a wise old-school detective who hunts and then understands Kiryu in a surer, traditional way. “Cops need experience, sixth sense and strong legs; not sit at a computer,” he expounds gruffly, preferring to see things with his own eyes instead of relying on a sinister all-seeing software.
Whereupon, you know that, man, the Japanese in these tech-flooded days really doubt their leaders and anybody with some kind of overbearing, overriding authority. The conspiracy is everywhere and, just like in Kaiji: Final Game, everyone who's in charge of something or other is always up to no good looking to rid Japan of its hordes of unproductive citizens through ultra-rightist homicidal methods.
“Only 50 per cent can work, 10 per cent are children, the rest are old and weak,” goes the rationale for the mass culling. That's all fine and dandy because I don't trust my microwave oven, its diabolical instruction manual and the shady repairman too.
Problem is, you just know from a mile away who the dubious and evil characters here in A I Amok are mostly because they try their best to look extremely dubious and evil. This is a too-even, too-predictable flick crying out for a better ‘gotcha!’ ending than the one it thinks we'd be surprised by. It's still something that's pretty okay to see, but nope, there's no mind-blowing shock here.
Except maybe why this super clever A I didn't just plan for a simple virus. (***)
Photo: Encore Films