Death doesn’t take a holiday in the beguiling supernatural triptych “Accuracy of Death” — instead, he wears white gloves, has a jones for Asian pop and goes about his business with unflappable cool, as played by Taiwanese-Japanese star Takeshi Kaneshiro. Drolly raising themes of love and luck, life and mortality as it morphs from romantic comedy to yakuza thriller en route to a three-hankie finale, this whimsical, cleverly contrived trifle works best as a vehicle for Kaneshiro, whose involvement will rep pic’s strongest selling point for Western auds.
As revealed in the funeral sequence that opens the film on a somber note, Chiba (Kaneshiro) is not Death himself, but rather an agent of death (known as a Grim Reaper) sent to determine, through conversations with his assigned targets, whether they deserve the untimely ends for which they’ve been predestined.
His first mark is lonely, attractive Kazue (Manami Konishi), who’s being stalked at work by a sinister caller. She and Chiba collide in classic meet-cute fashion; his spacey, guileless demeanor and inability to understand common idioms (i.e. “pickup”) give this tale the flavor of a quirky romantic comedy, one that comes to an unexpected conclusion.
Chiba’s next job involves a middle-aged gangster (Ken Mitsuishi), his loyal protege (Takuya Ishida) and a pack of rival thugs. Counterbalancing this segment’s muted violence and grave resolution is the gentler tone of Chiba’s third assignment: He visits an elderly femme barber (Sumiko Fuji) who lives by the sea, in a lovely, elegiac episode that eventually lapses into shameless (and quite effective) tearjerking, bringing together the life-and-death themes addressed more delicately earlier on.
Like a leaner, lighter Nipponese take on “Meet Joe Black” (in which Brad Pitt played Death as a peanut butter-addicted robot), “Accuracy of Death” is a mostly engaging confection that gets considerable comic mileage out of Kaneshiro’s fish-out-of-water Chiba. The mellowest Grim Reaper imaginable, Chiba cheerfully mangles the local vernacular, sighs reproachfully when he accidentally paralyzes someone with his icy death-touch (hence the gloves) and grins his way through every bleak circumstance, impervious to despair. This is Kaneshiro’s first Japanese role since 2002’s “Returner,” and the actor (most recently seen in the Chinese historical epics “Red Cliff” and “The Warlords”) confirms and expands his range with a delightful, minor-key comic performance.
Adapted by Masaya Kakehi and Hirotoshi Kobayashi from Kitaro Isaka’s novel, the screenplay fastidiously repeats snippets of dialogue throughout, establishing the three individual stories as points on a continuum. Kakehi also handles the workmanlike but proficient direction, making subtle use of visual effects that further the film’s air of matter-of-fact enchantment.
While “Accuracy of Death” is the film’s official English-language title, the print reviewed also bore an alternate title, “Sweet Rain.” Tech credits are sharp.