Directed by Eiji Uchida
In what is surely the most effective cautionary tale this year at Fantastic Fest against letting your child waste away on mindless television during their developmental stages, the psychosocial dark horror comedy Greatful Dead should inspire parents to give their kids a loving hug once the film ends. In the telling of a neglected daughter’s descent from innocent but perverse voyeurism into madness, director Eiji Uchida (The Last Days of the World) has managed to make a well-crafted horror film that also touches upon Japan’s growing divide between the youth minority and the elderly majority.
Actress Kumi Takiuchi (beating out 500 actresses for the role) plays the cheerful but lonely lead, Nami, who was ignored by her zombified father from an early age. Seduced by an alluring mistress Nami calls Akko-chan, Dad pays no attention to the young girl as he’s led, night after night, into a secret room where Nami is never allowed. Instead, she watches infomercials from the Mr. Lucky company, steadily buying package after package to fill the void left from being unloved and unwanted. Nami is always upbeat and happy in front of the television; yet, tormented and sad when Akko-chan and her father continue to ignore and pity her.
Inheriting a large sum of money from her father, the cold cash provides Nami with the time to spend her days however she wants. She distances herself from anything resembling a normal relationship, choosing instead to spy on mentally ill eccentrics and members of the elderly population that both fit into categories of people she calls Solitarians. This “Solitarian-watching” continues for years, focusing mostly on a young and crazy homeless boy until Nami comes across the aging Mr. Shiomi (Takashi Sasano) – an encounter she believes to be fated. Nami follows his every move, camping on a rooftop across the street using binoculars and a telescope purchased from Mr. Lucky’s never ending supply store. Beyond happy when Shiomi is an isolated curmudgeon obsessed with Japanese porn (there it’s just called, you know, porn), Nami grows angry when an innocent bible-thumper, Ms. Su-Young, begins to read scripture with Shiomi, transforming him from an uncaring father and grandfather into a man willing to be a real part of his family’s life.
Shiomi, a once well-known personality that was universally beloved, is still upset that he was forgotten by the public and is not ready to forgive, but the now rageful Nami is poised to stop his efforts and let him know that she will never forget him no matter what. Equipped with a rain parka and a hammer, she enlists the help of another Solitarian to aid in a sadistic plan that changes Nami from spectator to full contact participant.
Once Nami springs into action, Greatful Dead becomes a total blast even in its darker, more twisted moments. It’s uncomfortably sexual, strikingly brutal, and weirdly moving at times. Once it becomes a full-on battle, the two become a strange pair indeed, polar opposites in age but similar in spirit and motivated to achieve the same purpose. A final connection is discovered between them that is the central and most powerful moment in Greatful Dead that’s sweet and psychotic all wrapped into one.
The shortcomings fall in the music department, where badly timed song cues in certain pivotal scenes make the viewer unsure whether to chuckle or grimace. It’s a glaring budget issue, but regardless of being forced to use canned classical music because of money, Eiji Uchida doesn’t seem to have given much thought to their placement within scenes. With a rousing score in its place, Greatful Dead would have been so much more.
The inclusion of Takashi Sasano was crucial to the film getting made (he’s bankable in Japan) and the fact that he is so famous makes him the perfect casting choice to play an aging star that’s been forgotten. With this performance, he’ll certainly be remembered by Fantastic Fest audiences, as will the well-balanced, brave theatrics of Kumi Takiuchi who brings a great mix of innocence and danger to the role.
3 1/2 out of 5