Kaiji: Final Game (PG13)
Starring Tatsuya Fujiwara, Sota Fukushi, Nagisa Sekimizu, Mackenyu Arata, Kotaro Yoshida
Directed by Toya Sato
Two things keep surprising me about this Kaiji gambling series.
One — how long can a story about gambling keep on going again and again? Two — how many crazy and diabolical new contraptions can they (meaning, returning director Toya Sato and manga creator-writer Nobuyuki Fukumoto) come up with to make the addicted masses in their tales bet money on?
In previous flicks, they already had people cross a treacherous metal beam perched high up in the air, there have been a super-elaborate pachinko machine, all sorts of card games and, as always, the simple-yet-confusing mainstay of rock-paper-scissors, a climactic fave that's been rehashed for every occasion. Including, as expected, over here.
Just so you know, some desperadoes actually die in this tri-quel when they bungee-jump in an ultimate all-or-nothing suicide game for cash where only one rope doesn't hit the ground. It's sorta like Saw with a macabre-cutesy Japanese flavour. “Let your suicide be the one that offers someone hope,” goes the chirpy encouragement.
I must say, though, that I find the plot of this third instalment to be quite enjoyably fascinating and intellectually stimulating because this time, the ambition has grown much bigger. National-size bigger, in fact. Imagine a sinister government conspiracy to rob the citizens of Japan of their money and create a brand new currency to basically form a new economy for the country from scratch.
It's cooked up by a cocky evil messiah, Kousuke Takakura (Sota Fukushi), who advises the Prime Minister and claims to be saving Japan by essentially freezing the assets of the “useless” people to restart everything again. “We are a country sinking under pension, health care and welfare,” he declares, planning a shady scheme that's just begging for instant corruption by VVVIPs. Let's just say that the stench of greed goes right up to the top in shiny suitcases.
You know, I believe that some conservative people in these brutal, morally deceitful times might actually consider this nefarious plan to be a damn good idea. I think the last person who actually attempted it was some nut named Adolf Hitler.
Anyway, it's actually three things about this show that surprise me if you count the serum of eternal youth which series star Tatsuya Fujiwara as incorrigible gambler extraordinaire, perpetual underdog and main rascal, Kaiji Ito, must surely be taking here. Boy, this dude doesn't seem to age. I mean, he's 37 years old, looks like a kid and I wanna drink whatever the heck he's drinking. You can bet on it. No gambling pun intended.
We're talking about the original Kaiji going back to 2009 and then Kaiji 2 in 2011 and still Fujiwara's cheeky mug looks exactly the same here in Kaiji 3. His young-pup wig is intact and he still shouts in a very self-righteous, highly affronted manner into the faces of filthy, monumentally greedy people.
About the only thing which shows that it's been 11 years since the first film is that, this time, the main winner-takes-all game here is more sedentary and less energetic. The players mostly hang around watching a giant balancing scale weigh gold nuggets which have been deposited by two billionaire competitors.
Who will win the whole thing by putting in more money? How will the needle tip? Everybody holds their breath in thrilling tension as even a single coin can flip the balance. While I kept thinking, man, just five gold bars from that mega-bucks Bloomberg who blew a fortune in futilely running for president in America would really fill up my wallet quite nicely.
The loot will go into the dirty government coffers if the bad billionaire wins which Kaiji, reluctantly coaxed into taking him on in the high-stakes showdown, tries to stop of course. The vagabond gambler is happy just to play for small change. The baddie, however, is a heartless pig who exploits and enslaves the desperate poor under the pretext of giving them jobs. And if you remember the first two films from way back, you'll know that this bastard ran the subterranean cesspool of acute income inequality which Kaiji was once a prisoner of. Thus, making this payback very personal.
There is, you see, a relevant social and satirical dimension to this movie series. Gambling is an addiction. But it's also the sinister mind-numbing device which the elite uses to keep the rich-poor gap wider than the Grand Canyon and the abjectly skint completely powerless. Kinda like what's happening in our real world today.
And here's where I really dig this Kaiji 3, supposedly the last hurrah. Yes, it's protracted, it's filled with the outlandish clichés which Japanese flicks love to indulge in and it may seem like a juvenile plaything to the uninitiated. But I like the dark financial apocalypse proposed here which is quite grimly thrilling just to ponder on.
The kids will see Kaiji as a fun artful dodger who always has a trick up his sleeve as his opponents keep thwarting and cheating him in the game. He needs to find urgent ways to make big money instantly to pour onto the pot and just when you think he's lost, something unexpected pops up.
The grown-ups, though, might recognise the right-wing politics suggested here and likely view it as something scarily portentous and potentially inevitable.
“The penniless do have value,” the conscientious Kaiji shouts right into the face of the cruelly callous government mastermind, Takakura.
Beware. As the world economy rolls on its dice, we have been warned by the gambler. (***)
Photo: Encore Films