JFF Encore Review - Key of Life
Could you imagine if you woke up tomorrow in someone else's life, or perhaps if you stole someone else's lifestyle? How would you present yourself as a Police officer, an actor or a drug dealer? Fact of the matter is, you'd probably do an absolute hatchet job of it because although we think that we know how other people's lives work, we really have no idea.
So what if you took on the role of a master assassin? Big shoes to fill, no? This is the basic premise of Kenji Uchida's KEY OF LIFE (鍵泥棒のメソッド). Takeshi Sakurai is a down-on-his-luck actor who, after considering suicide, crosses paths with Junitsu Kondo and immediately envies the cashed up assassin's lavish lifestyle. When and errant bar of soap gets the better of Kondo, Sakurai swoops in and takes over the lifestyle of the amnesiac hit man. But before this, we meet Kanae Mizushima, a dedicated magazine editor who announces her intention to get married even though she doesn't have a partner. This is where all of our characters lives intersect.
Needless to say, hilarity ensues. One of the greatest triumphs of KEY OF LIFE is the films tendency to play things straight. Be under no false pretences, this is definitely a comedy, and a great one at that, but instead of cheap laughs director Kenji Uchida turns to his characters to deliver comedy through their complete inability to perform in their new roles. The awkwardness, which at times teeters on cringeworthy, of such ineptitude is responsible for many of the films laughs, particularly from the understated Kondo.
It's the attention to detail that really sells this film, the little things that you may not notice but make all the difference to the overall aesthetic of the film. Each character is personified not only by the way they walk and talk, but also through their surroundings. From interior design to wardrobe and choice of vehicle, we see that whether we realise it or not, we create a persona for ourselves. A persona that simply wouldn't suit anyone else. Not only are the performances pitch perfect and the writing subtly pointed, but the camera work by cinematographer Akira Sako (Returner, Platinum Data) goes beyond what you'd expect from a romantic comedy using height to great effect which allows for the production design to be appreciated, as it should be .
Sound like a Japanese version of Freaky Friday? Yeah, it is a take on the identity swap trope but brings something extra special to the table. It's a real tragedy that this film hasn't received a local release on DVD. Sadly when it comes to Japanese cinema, we're generally left with B-grade horror films and the odd Sion Sono or Takeshi Miike film. I guess that's what makes JFF Encore such a fantastic event!