People drop like flies in “Isn’t Anyone Alive?” the latest black comedy from Gakuryu (formerly Sogo) Ishii, the creator of “The Crazy Family,” “Angel Dust” and “Electric Dragon 80,000V.” Adapted by Shiro Maeda from his play about the end of the world, set on a college campus and an adjacent university medical center, “Alive” suggests a peculiarly Japanese take on a Gregg Araki film, with its desultory absurdism and flashes of deeper angst among the younger set. Wide distribution appears unlikely, but this surreal indie could connect with alienated niche auds.Maeda’s text follows several groups of students and/or hospital staffers as they map out their limited futures, choreograph dance numbers or cook up appropriate last words. But a mood of utter disaffection already pervades the proceedings before the film’s unnamed apocalyptic scourge even materializes. Students swap information about a terrible subway accident that has claimed many lives, more concerned with the commute home than the tragedy. In a campus coffee shop, a soon-to-be-married young man, his bride-to-be and the girl he has gotten pregnant discuss their options, but spend more time deciding on drinks. As it turns out, the future is something no one needs to ponder for very long; two girls and a guy rehearsing a song-and-dance routine for the aforementioned couple’s wedding count among the first onscreen casualties. The three take turns coughing, convulsing and dropping dead, out of synch with the music and each other. Segments at the college and nearby hospital play like separate skits in no particular dramatic progression. In a hospital corridor, a long-haired guy called Dr. Fish (for no reason, since he is neither fish nor doctor) sees a buddy who escaped death in the subway accident fall into convulsions, briefly revive and then die. A passing physician, perishing in the now-familiar throes, leaves a tape in the hands of Dr. Fish to give to a lovely female colleague. When she in turn passes by, she plays the tape, and she and poor Fish wind up croaking to the horrendously off-key strains of the physician’s wailing love serenades. A girl hospitalized with an incurable disease wanders into the coffee shop and strangles two customers with her bare hands. She wanders off to the seashore with a young waiter, the closest the film ever comes to a male lead by dint of his popping up in early and closing scenes. Lenser Yoshiyuki Matsumoto’s restrained compositions and Toshihiro Isomi’s modern, minimalist production design complement the action’s convoluted strangeness.
A Phantom Film release of a Dragon Mountain production. Produced by Hironobu Ohsaki. Executive producers, Gakuryu Ishii, Hiroaki Kanenobu, Eiji Hashimoto. Directed by Gakuryu Ishii. Screenplay, Shiro Maeda, from his play.
Camera (color, HD), Yoshiyuki Matsumoto; editors, Gakuryu Ishii, Takahiko Takeda; music, Haru Ishii; art director, Toshihiro Isomi. Reviewed at Japan Cuts, New York, July 22, 2012. Running time: 113 MIN.
Eri Aoki, Kota Fudauchi, Keisuke Hasebe, Tatsuya Hasome, Asato Iida, Ami Ikenaga, Hiroaki Morooaka, Jun Murakami, Okito Serizawa, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Hakka Shiraishi, Shota Sometani, Chizuko Sugiura, Yumika Tajima, Mai Takahashi, Rin Takanashi, Konatsu Tanaka, Shojiro Tsuda.