Waiting for the giant alien insecticide bottle to appear
I was 20 years old, further away from home than I ever had been and I had thrown all my principles all my principles about caring for the environment out through the window. It was a matter of survival. It was them or us. So every night before going to bed I sprayed the bathroom and kitchen with Radar until the air was so dense with it that you barely could breathe anymore. If I woke up during the night I tried to stay in bed, postponing my body needs until the next morning if possible so I didn’t have to face the creatures in the darkness.
When the morning arrived I went to inspect what remained of this night’s intruders. The floor was covered with them, lying on their backs. Some were already dead, while others still moved in spasms. I wasn’t quite sure of how it worked but from what it looked like the insecticide dissolved their intestacies. I kept telling myself insects don’t feel pain the way we do, but I wasn’t very convincing.
I thought of this as I recently watched the Japanese apocalypse film Isn’t Anyone Alive playing at Stockholm Film Festival. After a 30 minute set-up, to let the audience get to know the characters (mostly university students) before they’re about to be killed, the reminding 1,5 hours of this film were spent showing people dying in the same manner as the insects Rarotonga.
One or two death scenes like that can be disturbing, surprising, intriguing and perhaps even a little bit funny, since there are elements of humor in this film (if you consider a man who desperately needs to poop funny. I don’t.). But when you see someone crawling into fetus position for the tenth time without any explanation given to what’s going on or anyone trying to do something about it, it gets pretty repetitive.
It’s at that point that you start to fantasize about a giant Radar bottle suddenly appearing from the sky, like one of Terry Gilliam’s animations in the Monty Python series. Perhaps there was a giant insect somewhere out in space cleaning her bathroom spraying Earth to get rid of those pesky human beings! How cool wouldn’t that have been?
Sadly the bottle never turned up outside of my imagination. It certainly would have helped. This film would have been a fine short film of ten minutes. It makes a dreadful two hour experience.
I can see the value in the exoticism that a Japanese movie like this provides. There’s an odd mix between humor, drama and thriller that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Sometimes this can provide a great, entertaining film experience such as in Battle Royale. But in this case it doesn’t.
One reason is that the story is too thin. It’s all just repetition. Nothing really happens and the twist you keep waiting for that will put everything in a new light and give the movie a meaning never arrives. Another problem is the poor execution. I didn’t feel as if the actors were real people, engaged with each other in real dialogues. They came out as very poor amateur actors. Occasionally they went into over-the-top acting as they reacted to the death of someone else, but mostly they said their lines very stiffly as if they were reading them from the script. Perhaps it was supposed to be this way, either because they have a different tradition in Japanese cinema that I’m not familiar with, or because the director had an artistic intention with it. But whatever the reason was, the result is terrible as far as I’m concerned.
In the end I only counted to three people leaving during the screening, but I think there were far more who zoned out from it at a mental level, looking at their watches, counting down and planning for what to buy for dinner.
I’ll give it as much as that the final minute of it looks kind of neat. And the poster does too. But that’s not enough to compensate for the drudgery that is 99 percent of the film. I’m usually a big fan of movies with apocalyptic themes, but this is something I wouldn’t recommend to anyone apart from people with a special interest for Japanese cinema, who possibly might see something in it that escaped me.
Isn’t Anyone Alive (Ikiterumono wa inainoka, Gakuryu Ishii, JA 2012) My rating: 1,5/5
Sofia at Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord wrote an excellent piece about this film. It’s in Swedish, but you can always try to run it through Google translate.