REVIEW: Kaiji: Final Game boasts an anime feel but can be over-the-top at times

Marcus Goh
Kanako Kirino (Nagisa Sekimizu) allies with Kaiji Ito (Tatsuya Fujiawara) in Kaiji: Final Game. (PHOTO: Encore Films)

Rating: PG13
Length: 128 minutes
Director: Toya Sato
Writer: Nobuyuki Fukumoto
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Sota Fukushi, Nagisa Sekimizu, Mackenyu Arata, and Koutarou Yoshida 

SINGAPORE — Tatusya Fujiwara reprises his role in Kaiji: Final Game, the third movie in the Kaiji film series. It's been a long time since we saw him as Kaiji on the big screen, since the the last Kaiji film came out in 2011, almost ten years ago. The premise remains the same though — a plucky gambler must overcome several gambling challenges in order to save the day. However, the so-called challenges don't come off as being that impressive in the film.

Yoshihiro Kurosaki (Koutarou Yoshida) and Kaiji Ito (Tatsuya Fujiawara) face off in Kaiji: Final Game. (PHOTO: Encore Films)

The film sees a down-on-his-luck Kaiji being recruited for a series of challenges, with nothing less than the fate of Japan hanging in the balance. However, he's joined by several new allies in this film as he attempts to unravel and foil a plot that reaches the highest levels of the Japanese government. It remains to be seen whether Kaiji has what it takes, or if his country will fall prey to the machinations of devious political servants.

Kaiji: Final Game starts strong, showing the dire straits that Kaiji has fallen into. It also acts as a mild political commentary on the labour market in Japan, since it presents a fictional world where the richest man in the country is also the one who has access to and control over all the temporary workers in the nation. Kaiji is one of those temporary workers, and when an opportunity presents itself for him to climb out of this pit, he does so.

Minato Hirose (Mackenyu Arata), Kaiji Ito (Tatsuya Fujiawara), and Kanako Kirino (Nagisa Sekimizu) in Kaiji: Final Game. (PHOTO: Encore Films)

The film then launches into its main premise, which sees the title character overcoming four big, bombastic "games", which are challenges of skill and luck. The rest of the movie sort of hinges around these games, and the first one ("Tower of Babel") is an energetic and impressive one that shows you just how skilful the main character is. It's fun, exciting, and raises the bar a little too high.

Subsequent "games" are lacklustre in execution. The second game, "The Last Judgement", is literally a money weighing competition (whoever has more money wins!) while the third game, "Dream Jump", has so weak a premise that there's hardly any punch to it. "Golden Scissors-Paper-Stone" is the final challenge, which is slightly more interesting than it sounds. There's some element of strategy to it which adds some tension, but it still falls short of the standards set by the first game.

The Last Judgment game in Kaiji: Final Game. (PHOTO: Encore Films)

However, the variety of gambling challenges that Kaiji has to overcome does capture the spirit of the show, and in true over-the-top anime style, our hero wins in the flashiest way possible. It's always accompanied by copious flashbacks revealing his cunning and ingenuity, and that's what the series is about — seeing how Kaiji overcomes insurmountable obstacles. It's everything that you'd expect from a live-action film adapted from a manga series.

Unfortunately, it does import some elements that don't work so well with actual human actors. Kaiji screams a whole lot in this movie, especially when he's trying to express desperation. While this technique might work well in a manga or anime, it looks terribly silly when a grown man is screaming out his woes. It gets painfully overused in the film, and feels so exaggerated that you wonder what the director is doing at times.

The villain of the piece, Kousuke Takakura (Sota Fukushi), looks too handsome and clean cut to be a convincing antagonist. It's not so much the fault of the Kamen Rider alumnus as it is the imaging — whoever did the costumes and make-up was clearly too fixated on presenting good looks rather than hints of villainy, and you end up with a showdown between two characters who look like they're on the same side.

Sota Fukushi (Kousuke Takakura) in Kaiji: Final Game. (PHOTO: Encore Films)

Kaiji: Final Game echoes the spirit of the manga and anime well by staying true to the elements that made it popular. It does hew a little too closely though, resulting in segments that look awkward when translated to a live-action movie. Nevertheless, fans will be pleased to see another Kaiji film on the big screen.

Score: 3.5/5

Release date:
Singapore – 5 March

Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter who writes for “Crimewatch”, as well as popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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