Lost By Dead is a debut indie by model turned actor, now writer/director/actor Masato Tsujioka. Story goes, he moved from Osaka to Tokyo and found work in Shinja Tsukamoto films like Bullet Ballet and Vital. The experience not only gave him his first forays into acting but served as a deeply felt inspiration to make his own film. He gathered together a like-minded, small crew whose passion unfortunately equaled their inexperience and together they undertook an arduous year long process of fits and starts, learning as they went, before finally finishing the film.
Akira (Tsujioka) is a bummed out, burned out, wannabe rock star who is simmering over the suicide of his girlfriend Mari. He is consumed with guilt because he basically treated her like shit, cheating on her, and was indifferent to her pregnancy. Most everyone he knows either blames him for her death or wants him to move on and get over it. Among the guilt crowd are a Greek chorus of voices in his head that taunt him when he is high and an old friend and former bandmate , Shinya, who secretly harbored unrequited love for Mari. In the get over it group are his bandmates, who want him to get his act together for a big show, and Kana, a mousy girl who has a crush on Akira and follows him like a loyal puppy despite his downward spiral and cold, unreturned affections.
Masato Tsujioka helms the film in an assaultive, high octane fashion very like Tsukamoto, Sogo Ishii, or any NYU student piece after a class about underground film makers like Richard Kern. From the start, the film comes blasting at you. What little plot it contains is there only in a sketchy fashion: Akira's bandmate's stand around with their girlfriends complaining about his unbalance. Kana follows him here and there hoping her unwavering devotion will somehow magically cure him. Shinya simmers with resentment. Evolving into the finale is a subplot that involves a pissed off punk gangleader and a deadly drug dealer. As for Akira, he does the typical underground punk film stuff, like wander around dark, desolated, decaying alleyways at night shooting smack, screaming, and getting punched in the face. As a matter of fact, there is quite a lot of people getting punched and beaten in exaggerated and cartoonish fashion, at times Tsukamotolike symbolic but mostly kind of comical and purely for shock.
This is the kind of movie where a scene with Akira bumblingly doing some kind of deal with a drug dealer abruptly transitions to a new scene where Akira is run over by a car driven by two characters we'll never see again, a wispy photographer who loved Mari and now wants to take pictures of a beaten, hit an run over Akira, meanwhile the photographer's partner jerks off in the car while kissing a baby doll.
I am loathe to lob too much criticism at the film because the biggest knocks against it are all understandable. It's a first timer film, done on a minuscule budget, with a crew of untrained amateurs. The fact that they finished the film at all is a miracle. While a more coherent story or, at least, a little more stylistic originality wouldn't hurt, Masato Tsujioka does succeed with rebel spirit. For the first two thirds of the film, I was not very won over. By the second gratuitous drug taking montage and fifteenth scene of Akira stumbling around in an alley feeling sorry for him self, I began to find the repetition and slapdash nature annoying, but the final third of the film really picks up in terms of both story coherence and stylistic execution. I imagine, this is the kind of film where they could allow to shoot it in a near linear fashion, thus, by the end, they really started to get their act together and it shows.
The DVD: Pathfinder.
Picture: Okay, I'm giving this three stars but don't want to confuse anyone. It looks like dog shit and isn't high end display friendly. But, that is all source rooted, mostly intentional, and not the fault of the transfer by any means, so it falls into that gray area where I cannot slag on it too much for looking bad because... well, it looks bad and cannot be presented any better.
Now that I got that out of the way.
Non-Anamorphic Widescreen. Shot in black and white, presumably on digital video. I say, "presumably" because its been through the Adobe/Apple wringer so much its hard to tell. It has been pushed an filtered to increase the grain and digital pixelation. Several low lit interior scenes are murky and were clearly given a contrast boost to make them a middling gray. But, I'll say it again, the rough and tumble nature was all intended, digitally pushed to ragged limits much in the same way underground filmmakers used to drag their Super 8 or 16 stock through whatever decrepit wash they could concoct in their bathroom.
Sound: 2.0 Stereo, Japanese with optional English subtitles. Much of the movie appears to have been filmed WOS (Without Sound), so we get a lot of blatant dubbing and the budget probably didn't allow a lot of room for heavy atmospheric fx. That said, the mix is still aggressive and has heavy use of industrial/metal, thrash scoring. The subs appear pretty perfect, well-translated and well-timed.
Extras: US&Jpn Trailers, plus a trailer for Tsujioka's next film, Divide (looks like it could be good). --- Director text Bio. --- Interview with Director and cast (14:09). Intercut with footage of them walking around graphitti painted streets and overpasses, a sit down interview with the men reveals some good anecdotes about the films origin and the rough shoot.
Conclusion: While not the most original film, Lost By Dead is still very worthwhile if you are into underground, avant garde, punk stuff. The DVD is a decent presentation, so I'll give it a blanket recommendation as a rental.