April 05, 2009

THE CHASING WORLD (2008) - deadly fast-paced fun

(2008, Japan, Riaru onigokko)

My friend Del (the brains behind 24framespersecond) showed me the trailer for this one and I immediately wanted to see it. So far, the only English-subtitled version is this Malaysian DVD (above) which I stupidly purchased just before visiting Malaysia. The disc isn't recommended, due to lousy subtitles and poor motion compression, but at least I've seen it now.

While the literal translation is something like The Real Monster Game, it's known in English under the catchier title of The Chasing World. The low budget makes the very most of a little. Like Monty Python and the Holy Grail couldn't afford real horses, The Chasing World is like Death Race 2000 without the cars. Scary masked assassins (the iconic poster image) roam the streets and garrot their victims with red hot wire weapons that cut through bodies like Swiss cheese!

Tsubasa Sato is a teenager who's great at not being caught. He can run fast and even up the walls, parkour-style, useful for evading school bullies. But throughout the city, there's a wave of freak accidents killing anyone with the rather common surname of Sato. Just as Tsubasa gets cornered by his enemies, he suddenly swaps dimensions into an alternate world where everything looks similar but different. There, his best friends are a gay couple, his dad isn't a drunk, and Japan is ruled by an insane emperor who's rooting out anyone called Sato in a series of sanctioned street fights. It's their actions that are triggering the freak events in the real world.

As Tsubasa Sato starts running for his life, he starts piecing together his alternate life, family and friends. If he survives, maybe he can also fix his family problems by altering events in this parallel world.

Like a classic Roger Corman film (let's say anything between 1950 and 1979), the constraint of the low budget has made this inventive but no less ambitious. The story is more anime adventure than science fiction, a story that supports the premise of the running game rather than any consistent logic. There are several witty touches early on, but the tone gets more downbeat and starts taking itself a little too seriously. For such a flimsy premise, it could have had a little more fun with it. Likewise, the implied sexual abuse of his semi-comatose sister makes the story more real than it needs to be.

Otherwise, it's fast-paced fun, with dynamic fights, a little gore, and special effects that verge on impressive, particularly the futuristic imperial tower dominating the city skyline. Though shot on video, there's superior camerawork and dynamic composition giving it a very filmic look. Just because there's no money, doesn't mean not taking the story, the acting and the cinematography seriously. Veteran actor Akira Emoto is particularly impressive as the nasty doctor. In the end, this was a surprise hit in Japanese cinemas.

The Malaysian DVD is fairly easy to get hold of, until a better release comes along, at
HKflix for instance. The subtitles are very vaguely translated and didn't convey the complexities of the plot. The action scenes are juddery and spoilt by the poor compression. The trailer I mentioned isn't on the DVD. So I'll definitely buy this again if/when it gets released anywhere else in English.

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