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Awesome: 12.5%
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2 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Alive (2002)
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by Brian McKay

"Alive, but hardly kicking"
3 stars

I must admit that I've become a fan of up-and-coming Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura. Plot-wise, his films aren't terribly innovative, and his directorial style is sometimes flashy and indulgent. However, he does have an eye for what makes a great action scene, which are the hallmarks of his films . . . and which appear to be mostly missing from ALIVE. Not only are the action sequences fairly passe', but it takes an awfully long time for him to get around to them.

One could forgive the lack of Kitamura's usually eye-popping action scenes, if it weren't for the laggy and over-deliberate pacing. ALIVE has a lot going for it, including good acting, an intriguing first half, and some highly polished set design and visual effects. But by the time the second hour rolls around, and you're still sitting through all of the drawn-out expository dialogue and flashbacks in hopes of a juicy action sequence - well, you may end up wishing you'd rented the other ALIVE movie about the cannibal soccer team instead.

ALIVE begins with a condemened man named Tenshu Yashiro (Hideo Sakaki) being led to the electric chair, for the crime of murdering six men who raped his girlfriend, Misako (Erika Oda). When the attempted electrocution fails to kill him, however, he is given a choice - continue to live as a prisoner in an unnamed experiment, or stay in the chair and get a more lethal jolt. Tenshu chooses the former, and is placed in a large room with another prisoner, Gondoh (Tetta Sugimoto), a serial killer and rapist whose victims were exclusively women. They are told over an intercom that they are free to do whatever they like in the room, and that all reasonable requests for food or comfort items will be granted.

It's an intriguing setup, with overtones of the German film DAS EXPERIMENT, and the dynamic between the two characters is rife with tension. Tenshu is a tortured, soft-spoken, contemplative soul who can only pine away for his now-deceased love, while Gondoh is brash, outspoken, and easily prone to violence. Confrontation between them seems inevitable, especially when the scientist conducting the experiment, Asuka (Koyuki), and her supervisor Kojima (Jun Kunimura) began to raise the room temperature or wake the prisoners up with loud alarms every half hour. But then they introduce a new element into the mix - a partition slides up to reveal a beautiful woman, Yurika (Ryo) in the adjoining room, who tells them "Whichever one of you kills the other can come in here afterward".

But Yurika is more than just a sexual carrot on a stick, and there's more to the experiment at hand than a mere study of male aggression. ALIVE takes an interesting sci-fi twist in the second half, but unfortunately it takes way too much time over-explaining things. When the big action scenes finally do roll around, they are deflated by too much build-up and an overbearing sense of familiarity (they basically look cribbed from the MATRIX movies, with a little bit of the AKIRA psychokinetic man-splattering on the side). It's not that the fight scenes are poorly done, just that Kitamura has already shown us much better in films like ARAGAMI and AZUMI.

By the same token, he's also done the "Two men in a room" thing much better in ARAGAMI, only in that film he gave us two men who had to fight each other to the death, despite sharing a mutual freindship and respect. The dynamic of two men who hate each other but must avoid killing each other could have worked equally well in ALIVE, but the story never lives up to the promise of the initial premise.

It's a shame that a small action film with such a talented cast and interesting set-up ends up being dragged down by excessive exposition and languid pacing. This seems to be a recurring weakness of Kitamura's - taking a premise for a good 80 or 90 minute action film, and stretching it out to a laggy 2+ hours. Kitamura knows how to direct . . . now he just needs to be a bit more judicious in the editing room.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11040&reviewer=258
originally posted: 05/12/05 15:29:28
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Boston Fantastic Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Boston Fantastic Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/23/06 David Pollastrini a bit slow in places but still great. 5 stars
6/08/05 E Excellent!! 4 stars
6/08/05 Matthew Semmler Wonderful movie, My type of stuff 5 stars
5/23/05 yosi sergant id say pass on this... go rent the other alive... at least people get eaten in that one... 3 stars
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  26-Oct-2004 (NR)
  DVD: 26-Oct-2004



Directed by
  Ryuhei Kitamura

Written by
  Ryuhei Kitamura
  Isao Kiriyama
  Yudai Yamaguchi

  Hideo Sakaki
  Shun Sugata
  Erika Oda
  Tak Sakaguchi

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