Eiji Uchida’s Greatful Dead (2013) combines several genres with an extremely compelling outcome. Black humour and mild farce combine to provide the tone and make it more than just an intriguing watch. Nami (Kumi Takiuchi) has been disillusioned with the idea of family from a young age; after her mother left to help children in a far flung land her father collapsed in on himself, confiding only in a mysterious woman in red and shutting out his two daughters. Nami’s sister attempts ‘a normal life’ but Nami is left to find comfort in the welcoming bosom of a television shopping channel. When her father dies Nami is able to indulge in her hobby of finding and observing other similarly solitary figures. She becomes fixated on one elderly man, Mr Shiomi (Takashi Sasano), with unexpected consequences.
Her attitude and fancies are hilariously reminiscent of Amelie (2001), if Audrey Tautou’s character had drifted more towards the psychotic instead of the whimsical end of the personality spectrum. She may be easily amused but she is also quick to anger – icy in her violent response to whatever has angered her. It makes for a strong and fascinating character. The screenplay is sharp, intricately detailing the dysfunctions found in relationships with one’s nearest and dearest. The impact of a strained or distant family life is assumed to result in the isolation of the characters that Nami resolutely stalks – binoculars always to hand – gradually drawing these solitary figures into interacting with her. There is great depth to her longing to connect with others.
That’s juxtaposed against the knee jerk violence of her automatic urge to reject contact, leading to some disturbing scenes which will linger long in the memory. The black humour, absurdity, classical music, and violence also gives Greatful Dead the unlikely air of A Clockwork Orange (1971) at times. Writer/director Uchida continues with the Japanese affinity for creating female warrior characters but instead of making Nami a typical strong victim, she is undeniably the aggressor and instigator in all situations, including a rape scene. The other characters are similarly compelling and not of the usual ilk: the eventual object of Nami’s obsession is wonderfully acerbic; his son a well drawn sulky teenager; the Christian volunteer, Su-Yong (Khobbi Kim), is wide-eyed, innocent but also determined to make a difference. The slightly ridiculous nature of events as the narrative progresses are laugh inducing at times but this may have been a knowing move by the film-maker in an attempt to alleviate the darkness of the film’s second half. Greatful Dead is a turbulent view, taking questions of neglect, the nature of religion and our perception of loners in its stride for a thought-provoking and enjoyably bonkers 97 minutes.