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In Japanese with English & Chinese Subtitles
Director: Toya Sato
Tatsuya Fujiwara, Yuki Amami, Teruyuki Kagawa, Taro Yamamoto, Ken Mitsuishi, Suzuki Matsuo, Kei Sato, Kenichi Matsuyama (special appearance)
RunTime: 2 hrs 10 mins
Released By: Encore Films & Cathay-Keris Films
Rating: PG

Official Website: http://www.encorefilms.com/kaiji/

Opening Day: 11 March 2010


KAIJI is an exciting psychological thriller starring Tatsuya Fujiwara as Kaiji, man forced to enter a deadly gambling competition aboard a cruise ship, to erase a large financial debt. This movie is the first time that “Death Note” co-stars Tatsuya Fujiwara and Kenichi Matsuyama are reuniting to work together!

Based on Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s hit manga series which has sold over 11 million copies, Kaiji is a 26 year-old job-hopping bum who suddenly finds himself riddled in debt after a shadowy loan company informs him that he is responsible for a loan taken by his friend (who has since gone missing) and whom he casually co-signed as a loan guarantor for!

The company gives Kaiji the solution of a lifetime – to take a short journey on the “Espoir,” a ship where other debtors such as himself gamble to pay off their debt and try to strike it rich at the same time. The rules of the gambling games seem simple at first but there’s much more than meets the eye…

Now stuck in a closed world of unsavory characters willing to do anything to defeat him, the game that will totally change Kaiji’s life has begun!

Movie Review:

For every Japanese movie released in cinemas, chances are nine out of ten are likely based on a manga or anime despite the country having a rich literary world of their own. "Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler" is no exception as it is based on Noboyuki Fukumoto’s hit manga series and starred Tatsuya Fujiwara (Death Note) as the leading man, Kaiji Ito.

With his half-heartening working attitude at a convenience store, Kaiji Ito is a young man who has no ambition of his own or plans for his future. Until one day, a mysterious woman, Rinko Endo appeared and demands Kaiji to return a debt of $2 million yen (with compounded interest), a loan he has casually signed as guarantor for a friend. There’s no way on earth Kaiji can returned the money and Endo offers him a solution - To get onboard a luxurious cruise ship, Espoir where he can clear his debt but also a chance to make a lot of money overnight. But what Endo never tell him is that it’s a deadly gambling competition he is entering onboard and there’s no going back if he loses.

When you talked about 'gambling' in movies, you might think of Chow Yun-Fat’s God of Gambler or Stephen Chow’s All For The Winner where the protagonist normally is a gifted card player. But "Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler" is not opting for the easy road as it does not deal with just an ordinary deck of poker cards. What we have is stage one, a Scissors Paper Stone card battle, if you lose you are forced into hard labor for an underground real-estate project perhaps for the rest of your life or take up the challenge of the Steel Beam Crossing Death Race to redeem your freedom. Participants must cross successfully on a narrow steel beam stretching from one skyscraper to another that is if they managed to escape being electrocuted or fall to their death. And if you are still alive by the end of stage two, you still need to play an E-card strategy game to win a whole load of money against the despicable host and right-hand man of the shadowy Teiai group, Tonegawa.

This might sound terrifying exciting as compared to Chow Yun-Fat eating chocolates or Stephen Chow clowning around with his 'mo-lei-tau' jokes inbetween their card-playing sessions. "Kaiji" in fact has far more serious issues on hand. Director Toya Sato (Gokusen the Movie) who started his career with Nippon Television seems to fall back on his goggle-box days and took his time to develop the sinister plot and characters. Not that there is a lot of information being conveyed to the audience at the end of the day. In fact, we are still left hanging in the air about the mysterious Teiai group which Endo works for, this is one glaring flaw perhaps done on purpose by the filmmakers. The gap between the first and second game stretches far beyond one expected and the lull period allows the introduction of a character or eye candy called Makoto Sahara played by Kenichi Matsuyama (also from the Death Note series) to make an extended cameo to satisfy the teenage fanbase. Fortunately the wait is worthwhile, the Steel Beam Crossing Death Race sequence that defies the success of the movie with its calculated amount of tension will grip you tightly to your seat.

Tatsuya Fujiwara’s portrayal of Kaiji is whiny and you might blame him for being too much of a crybaby but he put in his best performance to be the underdog and a man caught between being a loser and his desire to escape his fate. Veteran actor Teruyuki Kagawa is the one who stole the show with his menacing performance as Yukio Tonegawa.

At times the revelation of the games’ outcome come across as the ones in "Death Note" whereby the protagonists are often required to deliver chunks of dialogues in the capacity of revealing the various bits and pieces of the puzzle to the audience. Then again, employing a similar treatment in "Kaiji" with truckloads of dialogues somehow kills the pacing and excitement as the audience I’m sure are smart enough to follow through the mind-bending tactics, tricks and the rules of the games. This is one obvious downside of this movie that unnecessarily prolonged the running duration.

The manga series was a hit with fans with its clever study of the psychological behaviour of the different characters and the unique gambling ideas dreamt up by Noboyuki Fukumoto. In this live-action version, part of the fun is spotting common human flaws such as greed, temptation and the ugly façade of human beings. The movie has certainly showcased the strength of the original manga material thus explaining the glowing box-office in Japan in addition to a sequel being greenlit.

In conclusion, does the movie make a stand whether it’s morally right to treat gambling as a form of life-changing experience? "Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler" for sure carries zilch irresponsible messages or else the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) will come knocking in no time.

Movie Rating:

(Kaiji definitely deserved an Ace if not for the uneven pacing)

Review by Linus Tee


. Crows Zero II (2009)

. The Black Swindler (2008)

. Death Note 2: The Last Name (2006)

. Death Note (2006)

. Shaolin Girl (2008)

. Hero (2007)

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