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God’s Puzzle

Saluting life's simple pleasures in more ways than one, Japanese wild-man helmer Takashi Miike takes a break from heady genre-busting with "God's Puzzle," steering a pair of anxious Tokyo teens away from the pressures of quantum physics and toward tasty sushi.

With:
With: Hayato Ichihara, Mitsuki Tanimura, Rio Matsumoto, Koutaro Tanaka, Nozomu Iwao, Masaya Kikawada, Yuriko Ishida, Taro Suwa.

Saluting life’s simple pleasures in more ways than one, Japanese wild-man helmer Takashi Miike takes a break from heady genre-busting with “God’s Puzzle,” steering a pair of anxious Tokyo teens away from the pressures of quantum physics and toward tasty sushi. Intermittently bizarre rather than thoroughly so, the pic plays by CG-powered rules of a smart-kids-save-the-world actioner, adding Miike’s wacky narrative digressions and a bit of animation to mostly enjoyable effect. Nipponese release last June could be followed by pickups in other territories, though the pic’s excessive length of two hours-pluslowers the odds.

Sushi restaurant employee and amateur guitar hero Motokazu (Hayato Ichihara) nervously hits the books when his horny twin brother (also Ichihara) abruptly heads abroad on a skirt-chasing excursion and asks his sibling to cover for him in his physics class. Stuttering, twitchy and bug-eyed, with no discernible ability in the scientific realm, Motokazu is enlisted by Ms. Hatomura (Yuriko Ishida) to coax hermitic 17-year-old genius Saraka (Mitsuki Tanimura) — who invented the Mugen, Tokyo’s rollercoaster-shaped particle accelerator — out of her computer cave and into the university.

Dressed in a blue sweatsuit and wearing a perpetual frown, the depressive Saraka — bred by her sperm-buying mom to be a prodigy — reluctantly lends her intellect to the class, which is concerned with a hypothetical debate on whether it’s possible to create an entire universe from scratch. Lacking anything remotely resembling a sense of humor, Saraka takes the universe-making puzzle literally, which risks sucking planet Earth into a black hole.

Not surprisingly, Miike’s most conventional pic is least convincing in its serious moments, as would-be stimulating debates of God’s existence ring hollow. The director hints at drawing a connection between the scientific investigation of split pairs and the far-flung twin brothers themselves, but lets it drop in favor of cheeky comedy.

The guitar-slinging protagonist defines his eccentric graduate thesis as “science and art plus rock,” an apt description of the film itself, wherein the periodic appearance of a pulsing cursor triggers flashbacks, fantasy scenes, and an animated illustration of Motokazu’s twist on the big bang theory. Climax to this bloated epic is fittingly absurd and over the top.

The pic’s cinematography — in 35mm, with short India-set scenes on DV — is vibrant, and the FX kick up a storm. English subtitling is aptly playful, including the misspelling of dialogue from Motokazu’s slang-slinging mom with a “z” in place of each “s.” Zazzy.

Popular on Variety

God's Puzzle

Japan

Production: A Toei Co. release (in Japan) of a Haruki Kadokawa presentation. (International sales: Toei, Tokyo.) Produced by Hidetoshi Yamamoto, Akihiko Osugi. Executive producer, Haruki Kadokawa. Directed by Takashi Miike. Screenplay, Masaru Nakamura, from the novel by Shinji Kimoto.

Crew: Camera (color), Katsumi Yanagijima; editor, Yasushi Shimamura; music, Yuji Toriyama; production designer, Tetsuya Uchida; sound (Dolby Digital), Yoshiya Obara; visual effects, OLM Digital. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival (Dragons & Tigers), Sept. 25, 2008. Running time: 133 MIN.

With: With: Hayato Ichihara, Mitsuki Tanimura, Rio Matsumoto, Koutaro Tanaka, Nozomu Iwao, Masaya Kikawada, Yuriko Ishida, Taro Suwa.

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