Posts Tagged ‘Kaiji 2’

Kaiji 2 or Jinsei dakkai gêmu (2011)

November 18, 2011 Leave a comment

One of the more interesting tropes for any art form to explore is the potential for dystopia as the income gap widens. If we turn back several centuries, we find societies which, at the top levels, we consider civilisations. Except the only reason they were able to function at that level of sophistication was because of the large contingent of slaves to do all the essential menial work. Coming up to more modern times, we substituted what’s now euphemistically called the working class for explicit slaves. These people were either indentured (effectively the same as slavery) or sold their labour for minimal wages (sometimes at insufficient rates to pay all the bills at the company stores). Only in the last hundred or so years have we seen some of the worst excesses of exploitation scaled back with “ordinary” people given more respect and a living wage. Yet, we can all tremble at the thought of what might happen if there’s a prolonged economic collapse.

Our heroes Tatsuya Fujiwara, Teruyuki Kagawa, Katsuhisa Namase and Yuriko Yoshitaka up against the Swamp


Suppose the world trading system breaks down and we repeat the Great Depression of the 1930s only finding it goes on indefinitely. How many people would fall so deeply into debt the only way they could possibly begin to pay it off would be by working for the lender for nothing more than food and accommodation? This would slowly recreate the old working practices of indenture and, in effect, restore the slave class.


Kaiji began life as a manga, also known as Ultimate Survivor Kaiji, written by Nobuyuki Fukumoto and, as is often the way with successful manga, it was then adapted as two anime series, Gyakkyō Burai Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor and Gyakkyō Burai Kaiji: Hakairoku-hen. As this latest title suggests, Kaiji 2 or Jinsei dakkai gêmu is the second live action film following the original manga story.

Yûsuke Iseya with some cash in hand


So in this alternate version of contemporary reality, we have a society where a slave class live and work in underground mines. If they can find enough money to pay off some of their debts, they can make it back to the surface but only for a limited time. Only if all their debts are repaid can they remain on the surface permanently. Not that life is any less unkind on the surface, you understand. Many are homeless and there’s little work. That makes it easy to fall back into debt and so qualify for working underground again. The majority live in despair and simply aim for survival with the least pain. But desperation drives many to gamble. For the lucky few who hit it big, there can be a better life. Except where do you find the biggest odds? Here we have an inversion of the old “bread and circuses” which used to keep the Roman mob entertained. Now there are death games for the entertainment of the bored and wealthy. Some will bet on who will survive. Others merely come to cheer on the winners. The largest corporation providing this entertainment is Teiai. It owns a number of gaming establishments where the death games can be organised. In the first live action film, Kaiji (Tatsuya Fujiwara) is induced into starting to play for maximum returns by Rinko Endo (Yûki Amami). In the end, he manages to survive the games (all of which are rigged to produce the maximum number of losers) but, by the time we start this second episode, he’s back underground. By exposing a fraud, he’s able to put together enough money to buy himself out of the underground for a few days. With a small amount of cash, he needs to win big to pay off not only his own debt, but also the debts of everyone who clubbed together to buy him out. Primed to meet him by Teiai, Tonegawa (Teruyuki Kagawa) directs him to a casino with a game big enough to win all the money he needs to free his friends.


The pit boss of the casino is Seiya Ichijo (Yûsuke Iseya). This old building has an underground entertainment arena where gamblers may be torn to pieces by wild animals if they guess wrong, and on a higher floor, a massive Pachinko machine called the Swamp (possibly because everyone’s hopes get sucked down into the mire). On his first visit to the casino, Kaiji meets Kotaro Sakazaki (Katsuhisa Namase). He’s a naive but determined construction engineer who’s spent considerable time and effort working out how to beat the Swamp. Trying to get inside information, he recruited Yumi Ishida (Yuriko Yoshitaka). When Kaiji meets her, he realises she’s the daughter of one of the men he befriended in the first episode, but who fell to his death. She works in the casino and is able to supply important information about the rotation schedule for the different sets of traps in the Swamp. Tonegawa has also been working on a possible way to beat the machine but, like the others, he needs Kaiji’s skills to work out the optimum way of beating the unbeatable machine.

The Princess (Yuriko Yoshitaka) or the lion


There’s a lot to like about this film. It’s a pleasing dystopian parable about the relationship between the rich and the poor with strong performances from Tatsuya Fujiwara and Teruyuki Kagawa. Yûsuke Iseya is somewhat melodramatic but this has a useful comic quality, and both Katsuhisa Namase and Yuriko Yoshitaka make the best of the supporting parts. Nevertheless, there’s a problem with the script and direction. The director, Tôya Satô, working from a script written by the original manga author Nobuyuki Fukumoto, fails to show consistent discipline in telling the story. As a result, the film overruns by about fifteen minutes, i.e. it should have stopped at two hours. The central sequences are particularly badly affected as our four “conspirators” confront the Swamp and watch all their strategies work their way through against the suspected countermeasures. Frankly, this just gets tedious, which is a shame because most of the rest of the film is told with reasonable economy and not a little wit. Indeed, there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments.


So, overall, Kaiji 2 or Jinsei dakkai gêmu is worth seeing, not just by the fans of the original manga and anime, but also by “ordinary filmgoers”. If it has a message it’s that everyone can be relied on to be acting in their own best interests, but the real winners are those who can make friends. Indeed, if you have friends, who needs money?


%d bloggers like this: