Isn’t Anyone Alive? (Ikiterumono wa inainoka)
Gatukyu Ishii’s (formerly Sogo Ishii, ‘punk director’ and influence on Quentin Tarantino) return to directing after his name change and a pause of a few years, ISN’T ANYONE ALIVE?, is adapted by award winning contemporary playwright Shiro Maeda from his own stage play.
The characters of ISN’T ANYONE ALIVE? represent a sort of Japanese version of “The Only Way Is Essex”. But whereas TOWIE merely heralds the approaching Armageddon, here the apocalypse actually arrives.
On a university campus, a group of young students exchange banal dialogue about aspects of their lives. Emotionally they are remote, far more excited about the urban myth of a science experiment in the nearby hospital than by news that two serious train crashes have taken place in the area. They are more troubled by the inconvenience it will cause them in getting home. Elsewhere, two members of a love triangle bluntly discuss the life-changing options open to them after their affair resulted in an unplanned pregnancy. They become more animated when discussing their choice of drink.
They are untouched by death when friends around them start to die of a mysterious virus. Their reactions betray only gross self-concern or annoyance. The blank, sterile performances of long blocks of vapid dialogue provide a stark and intentional contrast with the death scenes. Here the characters are suddenly and violently thrown into convulsion. They realise, slowly, that this is their moment – deaths become performances, and a chance to make a mark with some entertaining final words.
In waiting for the zombie apocalypse to arrive we realise that these wretches are the zombies.
The inherent loneliness of these creatures lies in their inability to connect meaningfully. When asked ‘Do you know…?’ in reference to a person, the reply is simply, ‘kind of’. The dialogue intentionally allows the audience no information about the characters other than the purely superficial (even the origins of one of their nicknames is kept from us). The first deaths occur off- screen while the others are caught up in their dance routines or their mobile phones. The character that enjoys murdering others to put them out of their misery acquires, in contrast, a perverse relative morality. In waiting for the zombie apocalypse to arrive we realise that these wretches are the zombies.
In its intentions ISN’T ANYONE ALIVE? is an effective piece of filmmaking. The shallowness of a self-absorbed, celebrity obsessed group of students, cutely exposed through its absurdist interactions and the liberal use of split screen and sound by Ishii rather underscores the point, if you hadn’t got it already. Although effective, its delivery is intensely laboured, and offers scant reward or challenge to its audience. However, the last scenes show the sublime beauty of a world at an end – planes and birds fall from the sky, the sun dies, clouds contract – with only the one remaining student to witness it, the one most afraid of being alone.
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