Key of Lfie DVD Review
I can still fondly remember a time when it seemed like the independent
boom of the 90's led to countless inventive and off-the-wall filmmakers
branching out into new and interesting things with the likes of Quentin
Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Kevin Smith making a name for
themselves as talented storytellers with a mission: to try something
new while paying solid homage to the films they loved and grew up on. Key of Life reminds me of these
times as something about it rekindles the memories of that magic.
Obviously, Key of Life did
not result from the independent boom of the 90's in North America,
especially considering its Japanese origin (and as it was made and
released over twenty years after that particular filmmaking movement),
but it seems to have the same kind of spirit for a taking on a creative
new world of filmmaking which is rarely seen and that feels refreshing
compared to the majority of films being made today.
In many ways Key of Life
seems to have a real sense of adventure that is reminiscent of what one
might imagine seeing in an effort made by Quentin Tarantino and the
Coen Brothers should they ever team up to make a movie together. (Now
wouldn't that be fantastic?) Key of
Life deftly manages to combine the sort of genre elements one
would expect to find in the films of these significantly more
well-known directors. The ambitious filmmaking takes audiences on one
genuinely wild ride of cinema that is uncommon for any film made on
such a relatively shoestring budget.
One thing that strongly sets the effort apart from the successes of
those massive indie achievements of the 90's is that the film has
garnered little attention from around the world despite its acclaim and
recognition in Japan. This is quite the unfortunate aspect of the
film's release as I would like more audience members to be able to see
the feature and to enjoy in its many wonders. The filmmaking demands it
but audiences are mostly unaware. If the film was replaced with an
identical copy in English and with big movie stars attached it would
become a blockbuster nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
That is how confident I am in the film.
Unfortunately, the filmmaker of Key
of Life, Kenji Uchida, is virtually unknown outside of Japan.
Despite the fact that this is the gift's filmmakers third outing as a
writer/director it's inexplicably the first feature by the
creative-force to be released in North America on DVD. Festival
showings can creative fantastic buzz and appreciation for foreign films
by some of cinema's most dedicated viewers but it cannot help to ensure
a film will be a box-office hit. Unsurprisingly, then, the films of
Uchida have done well with a certain audience of cinema lovers who
appreciate some of the more offbeat works by Japanese director's. They
just are nowhere close to entering mainstream appreciation yet. I hope
that this will eventually be different.
Fans of unique and charming films with compelling storytelling will
want to consider exploring this remarkable effort. It won the Japan
Academy Award for Best Screenplay, a recognition of Uchida's
accomplishment that pairs the filmmaker with former winners of the
award: Yamada, Kurosawa, and Koyama, who scripted Departures, the winner of Best
Foreign Language Film at the 81st Academy Awards. One can hope that
this accomplishment will lead to growing recognition for the young
filmmaker and that it will allow for opportunities to be created for
him as a filmmaker. I would love for his films to be seen outside of
Japan to a greater extent going forward. Unfortunately, Uchida has a
long way to go before he is even a common name in houses of the most
ardent fans of Japanese cinema.
Key of Life is a combination
of so many genre elements; especially aspects of the comedy and drama
categories. It is one of the most surprisingly energetic and lively
films produced in 2012, and while it has just recently become available
in North America it is probably likely to be in my top films of 2014.
The film has a tendency to be laugh-out-loud hilarious one moment and
then it surprises with a moment of dramatic eloquence you would not
expect to find. The writing is such a huge factor in why the film has
such a seamless blend of comedy and drama. The script doesn't miss a
beat and flows effectively from one scene to the next.
The plot for the film is so outlandish and offbeat that it makes the
film all the more compelling to see it unfold. The film begins by
introducing us to Kanae (Ryoko Hirosue), a magazine editor of great
acclaim, yet someone who doesn't find time for herself outside of
working. Within the first few minutes of Key of Life we discover that she
intends to marry as she proclaims her wedding is coming up to an entire
room of employees. The office asks her who the lucky man is and she
answers that she has to figure it out. Flash away from this storyline
to a deadbeat, broke, and depressed man considering ending it all:
Sakurai (Masato Sakai). He is out of work and owes money to almost
everyone that he knows. Sakurai decides to go to a bathhouse and to
clean himself up.
Flash aside to an earlier time in the same day and we are introduced to
a hit-man taking care of a "job" and who is quite methodical, scary,
and morose. This hit-man's name is Kondo (Teruyuki Kagawa). After this
"job" is over he too decides to go to a bath-house for a shower, yet
what he doesn't realize is that someone is going to drop a bar of soap
that will cause him to slip and lose his memories and that this person
is none other than the unemployed Sakurai. Upon realizing that Kondo
has amnesia, Sakurai discovers that Kondo is a wealthy person because
of the clothing he brought to the bathhouse and items in his
possession. As he owes money to an enormous amount of people, he
decides he'll clear up some of his debt and pretend to be the
memory-troubled Kondo, taking his car keys, and going to his apartment.
As one might be capable of imaging, things begin to spiral from here.
Because of his amnesia, Kondo winds up assuming the goofy identity of
the slacker and his methodical nature is troubled by the news that he
is a slob, essentially living in a mess of an apartment and with no
work. Meanwhile, Sakurai is in deepening troubles when he becomes
involved in the matters of a group of yakuza gangsters who have heard
of the mysterious Kondo but had never before met him. It amazingly
doesn't stop there as Kanae, who still wants to be a bride (with a
deadline that is already looming) meets the amnesiac hit-man and begins
to have feelings for him. Um... whoops? Surprising turns continue
to happen as the story progresses along it's unique and somewhat
The plot and characters are fascinating and full of zany twists and
turns. The fine performances by Masato Sakai, Teruyuki Kagawa, and
Ryoko Hirosue help dramatically, providing such an excellent anchor to
the plot twists by making the characters believable and unique.
One gets a feeling that everyone in the film worked together on the
same page to deliver performances of great note. There is a strong
cohesion with the entire cast that makes Key of Life work wonders.
At the core of the film, Key of Life
is a story about relationships between people and the amazing ways in
which we can often find ourselves in relation to those around us. It is
a dramatic work in the sense that it asks some philosophical questions
about life, identity, relationships, and romantic love that sets it
apart as more than just a goofy comedy of a completely zany case of
stolen (and mistaken) identity. The film is also about the art of
performance, which makes the film something that taps into ideas about
filmmaking. It does so in a unique way at various stages of the film.
For a true film buff it essentially adds another ingredient of magic to
When I began Key of Life, I
had no idea what to expect from the film. I had never even heard of the
filmmaker prior to viewing a trailer for the Film Movement release and
I hadn't heard of the earlier efforts of this writer/director in any
regard. I had low expectations but hoped it might be entertaining
considering the fact that it won the Best Screenplay award in Japan. I
am glad to have seen the film and that it was not passed over. It
almost completely passed me by and it is an enormously funny, charming,
and delightful film which is complemented by the expert filmmaking and
energetic performances. For some reason, Key of Life doesn't seem to be
quite that well-known in North America. Of course, I feel this should
dramatically improve over time as more audiences become familiar with
the filmmakers work. I recommend the effort to all fans of foreign
language cinema. Don't miss it.
Key of Life arrives on DVD by
Film Movement in a presentation that preserves its original theatrical
aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The release is also presented with anamorphic
widescreen enhancement and it looks quite good for a low-budget
Japanese film. The colors and unique cinematography are well preserved
with what is a reasonably clean, dimensional, and impressive transfer.
Key of Life is
presented with both a 5.1 surround sound presentation as well as a 2.0
stereo track. The surround sound presence is reasonable enough with
some good added ambiance, especially for the occasional sound effects
and the accompanying music, but don't expect a blockbuster surround
experience. There are a few key moments where the surround activity is
utilized, though. It's not going to surprise anyone much but it's a
decent and crisply defined audio presentation that does a good job of
presenting dialogue (the most important attribute).
In Japanese with English Subtitles.
As per usual, Film Movement has included its monthly short film
This entry is the humorous and engaging piece entitled Finale, which was directed by
Balazs Simonyi. I genuinely recommend this surprising piece, which is
highly creative and quite a bit smart, beginning with some characters
we first believe to be the leads before taking us away to a genuinely
shady looking duo in a bar who seem to be up to something kinda fishy
-- though their appearances could be deceiving.
The release also contains biography information for the filmmaker and
some of the actors, a note on why Film Movement selected Key of Life, and excerpts from an
interview with director Kenji Uchida. Trailers promoting other Film
Movement releases are also included.
Key of Life is one of the
most surprising films I've seen in years. It's ambitious, inventive,
smart, and genuinely moving while offering audiences plenty of laughs,
drama, and a number of zany twists and turns that will keep things
fascinating from start to finish.
The film managed to win Japan's Academy Award for Best Screenplay,
which is a tremendous honor for the wonderful effort. I would recommend
this film to anyone who loves Japanese cinema or quirky and smart
comedies with a bit of edge. It is a gem that deserves a significantly
larger audience. This is a film with plenty to offer. (I imagine it
later being remade with someone like George Clooney in a main role:
it's that impressive).
As far as the quality of the DVD is concerned, the picture-quality and
audio-quality are more than adequate and a delightful short film
accompanies the main feature, which adds up to an entirely notable and
well worth owning release by distributor Film Movement.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema, and a student who aspires to make movies. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.