Saturday, June 11, 2011

Liar Game: The Final Stage (Japan 2010)

Another movie based off of a manga-turned-television drama, Liar Game: The Final Stage (ライアーゲーム ザ・ファイナルステージ) aims to wrap up the long-running storyline in theatrical fashion, albeit with mixed results. You're either going to love or hate this (the movie that is...and possibly the review).

Just as a quick rundown for those not in the know, Liar Game is a competition that pits contestants against one another in an attempt to win money by using lies and deceitful tactics. There were two, 9 episode seasons of the television show that focused on Nao Kanzaki (Erika Toda), a ridiculously naive and honest college student who comes home to a package of 100 million yen and an invitation to participate in the Liar Game Tournament which consists of a number of rounds. She ends up working with an intelligent con-man (technically speaking, but debatable), Shinichi Akiyama (Shota Matsuda) who runs riot on the competition through various trials and slowly befriends the innocent Nao. That's the nuts and bolts of the series but I'm here to focus on the movie, which if you've seen, or read, any of the series, you'll know what to expect here. However, the film serves as a means to wrap up the story of the Liar Game Tournament and those responsible for it...or so I thought. Nao and Shinichi are back to put the final nail in this coffin and arrive at an island, dubbed the Garden of Eden, where the final stage (hence the title) of Liar Game will take place. Our two protagonists are once again thrown into a room with other contestants and are competing for a 5 billion yen prize. The twist this time around is that instead of using lies and deceit in order to win, the contestants must trust each other and work together in order to walk away with some cash and/or without debt. Some familiar faces return for the Final Stage, such as mushroom-head Yuuji Fukunaga (Suzuki Koysuke), and the LGT employees we've seen from the start, Eri (Michiko Kichise) and Mitsuou Tanimura (Ikkei Watanabe). The contestants feel that the game should be easy enough if they can all agree to work together for the sake of beating the LGT office, but a traitor, X, hides amongst them and begins to sabotage the group's plans. Can Akiyama, in true Akiyama fashion, outsmart the mysterious traitor, or will he and the others have finally me their match?

Defensive shields up! Now I felt the need to do that because Liar Game has a hardcore-nerd following and I definitely don't fall in that group. To be honest, I really disliked the first season of the show. I couldn't stand the far-too-many-to-count cuts in the filming style and the over-the-top acting and over-dramatics of how things would unfold. I understand that the show was based off of a manga, and the show is incredibly stylized, but this is ridiculous. Not to mention the fact that Nao Kanzaki is basically brain-dead. I understand she's supposed to be naively stupid because of her belief in being honest, trustworthy and generally believing in the best in people. However, this girl is just plain stupid and never appears to learn anything. Even when she does, the next thing she does tosses her prior knowledge out the window. I also wasn't a fan of the fact that each episode had enough substance to sustain probably 15 minutes of television with the remaining 30 minutes being comprised of reaction shots and Akiyama explaining to the other contestants (and the audience at home) how he figured out the game and out-smarted the others. That being said, there's nothing I can do to change the style, and being the masochist I am, I felt the need to see how they wrapped Liar Game up. On to season 2, considerably better based on the fact that the Ryou Katsuragi (Rinko Kikuchi) character was an interesting villain. I even learned to find Fukunaga amusing. Also, the games were more interesting. So I crawled my way to the movie with the mind-set that I honestly wanted to see who was behind the LGT and get some closure that the very existence of the movie aimed to provide. Alas, disappointment smacked me dead across the face. The closure I was looking forward to was met with what felt like a 2 hour episode of the show. They're honestly just trying to work together and figure out the identity of X for 2 hours and when the game is finished, the reveal, if I can even call it that, is quite disappointing. I also felt that Nao's character, who had appeared to have taken a page out of Akiyama's book, so to speak, in the smarts department for season 2, had regressed to her former, stupid self in the movie. As usual, Shota Matsuda, as Akiyama, is the most interesting character to watch and listen to. Here he's as compelling as he ever was. Suzuki Koysuke as Fukunaga is also a highlight, albeit briefly, because he's quite amusing, with his flamboyant outfits and over-the-top reactions, but he's really underused here and his existence seems to be more out of fan-service than anything else.

If it were a stand alone movie you'd probably think, "ah, well that's a bummer", but as a film that exists as a conclusion and extension of 2 seasons of a show, the ending is beyond disappointing. It felt as if it were not even a thought in the minds of those making the film. Now I don't know how the manga ended, having not read it, but if the ending is similar, I'm fine never reading it. I'd probably toss the book out the window. That being said, if I were a hardcore-fan of the series, I'd be all the more disappointed and upset at how they wrapped things up. I can only recommend Liar Game: The Final Stage for hardcore-fans (late to the party) or people curious to see what the talk was about. (Lee)

Grade: C

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