Kaiji Ultimate Gambler DVD

Monday, 26 July 2010 07:08

Kaiji Ito (Tatsuya Fujiware – “Death Note”, “Battle Royale”) is a depressed, unemployed gambler who has run up a sizeable debt. Full of resentment, he vandalises a flash car, only to be given an unbelievable ultimatum by its owner, a beautiful loan shark (Yûki Amami – “Ponyo”). He can either spend the next decade settling his account, or stand a chance of clearing it in one go by taking part in a mysterious challenge.

The high-stakes adventure starts on a cruise ship called “Espoir” (“hope” in French). Unable to resist, our hero turns up only to find dozens of other young male losers looking to wipe their slates clean. They start by playing games of Rock, Paper, Scissors using playing cards to win (or lose) stars. Those who can retain at least three stars and get rid of their cards will make it through; the rest are doomed to years of slavery.

Kaiji - The Ultimate Gambler on DVDWhat follows is a series of increasingly risky and sometimes deadly games that the survivors of the previous rounds must play, either against each other or simply by relying on their own bravery and cunning. Behind it all is a sinister and hugely powerful corporation managed by the despicable Mr Tonegawa (Teruyuki Kagawa – “Tales from Earthsea”).

The Teiai Group exploits the unsuccessful gamblers to replenish its sickly workforce who secretly toil 24/7 deep underground building a massive bunker.

Before long, Kaiji’s unexpected altruism lands him in the slave workforce, but there could still be a chance to redeem himself or escape. It is a race against time, though, as abysmal working conditions mean that deadly consumption is rife.

“Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler” is an entertaining Manga-sourced thriller with a stark sensation of other-worldliness. More than “13: Game of Death”, the premise leans more on the fantastic side than that of realism. The action and story are engaging and intriguing.

The acting is frequently way over the top, but it does not feel out of place given the genre, and to be honest, the contestants are put through the ringer! Though Kaiji has been one of life’s losers, you cannot help but root for him. You find yourself urging him to get one over on the voyeuristic Teiai employees, stiff, Matrix-like suits who relish watching the unfortunate players come unstuck on TV, whilst they nonchalantly sup Champagne.

The film does have a few regrettable flaws besides the unsubtle performances. Firstly, the characters spend far too long explaining relatively simple and already quite clear plot points. Secondly, the movie is at least twenty minutes too long, and could have benefitted from one or two more rounds of challenges to add variety rather than dwelling on each one for what seems like an eternity.

Most of the games are card-based, which director Tôya Satô does manage to make exciting thanks partly to some very devious characters, but only for so long. You start shifting restlessly in your chair, hoping the film will move on. Lastly, there is a little too much sentimentality on display. Yes, the stakes are high but they could have occasionally toned the emotion down a bit.

The preview disc had massive black borders on all sides, with the subtitles eating into the already small picture; hopefully the commercial product will not be afflicted in the same way. The special features (unavailable at the time of the review) include a trailer, a making-of documentary and a couple of playing cards.

“Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler” (2009) is out now on DVD, courtesy of 4Digital Asia. The running time of the main feature is 130 minutes approx, certificate ‘12’ and the movie retails for £15.99 or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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