Bring on the madness!” – Yumeko Jabami

Copyright 2019 Homura Kawamoto, Toru Naomura / SQUARE ENIX “Kakegurui Movie” Project

Japanese Film Festival is back to tour Australia from October through December 2019. Their line up is more diverse than ever and what a film to start things off with. ‘Kakegurui’ is the live action film, based on the similarly titled Square Enix manga-series, which was distributed in western countries by Netflix. Not familiar with the source material, I dove into the film and let me tell you, it stands completely on its own.

Kakegurui, shows us what happens behind closed doors at Hyakaou Academy – a private and elite institute that has been around for over a century. The academic ranking is based on how well the students gamble. Only the best of the best get rewarded, with riches and status. The ones who lose, become subhumans – or as they call them “kitties and doggies” – who most likely go in debt with the school and can only get back to normal by winning a game against the School Council President, Kirari Momobami (Elaiza Ikeda). Yumeko (Minami Hamabe) is new to the academy. Her pretty enchanting looks are only surpassed by her unquenchable appetite to gamble and win it all.

After the music video intro, we get to take a look at The Village, an on campus location free of debts and loans, where everyone runs off to after losing against the School President. Like Murasame (Hio Miyazawa), head of The Village, says “Gambling is meaningless and it won’t save anything“. But soon they’ll have to gamble for their lives, when Kirari forces a student rep election. If you don’t vote, you’ll be expelled. The council will even loan you 10 million Yen, which you can repay after the voting. Well knowing that The Village will refuse to act on the new situation, the council sends a group of their own to claim back the school building. Soon, every pupil will place bets on who they want to see become a part of the School Council. Nothing is what it seems and every move is a gamble.

You can definitely tell the movie is inspired by manga. Some visual effects include eyes popping out of skulls when in distress or tied up hair flying out of their scrunchies when angry. When a student leaps over a group of boys, she flies through the air to then get caught in a bag. It’s impressive to behold and funny at the same time. When the accompanying score elevates every gambling scene with a haunting choir, this really feels like raising the stakes. Everything is a bit over-the-top, from the smoky visuals to the acting, and for Kakegurui, it all feels right.

The acting isn’t bad though – actually it’s pretty darn good. The female lead, Minami Hamabe, is charming and definitely knows the character she’s playing. Her playfulness by not letting anyone see her cards, plays in her favour and surprises you a lot in the third act where she unveils some of her secret weapons. I must say, the entire female cast is just remarkably strong. Aoi Morikawa, who plays Meari Saotome, is great at more dramatic face acting. Sometimes so over-the-top dramatic that it caused me to laugh out loud. That’s without a doubt, a skill. Elaiza Ikeda looks menacing on her throne, but loses a lot of her external flair when being put in the spotlight. Still keeping her powerful stoic persona, she now looks more like the typical rich kid brat.

The male cast has a bit of a problem. Every girl in the film gets to team up with a boy, but they can’t compete with these powerful women on screen. Mahiro Takasugi‘s (who plays Ryota Suzui) over-the-top acting becomes exhausting very fast, and Yuma Yamoto‘s (playing Jun Kiwatari) mood-swings as a deranged gambler are so aggressive, it’s not pleasing to look at. The one actor who did more by being less is without a doubt Hio Miyazawa. His Amane Murasame is noticeably troubled (we later find out what made him this way), without having much dialogue and still connecting with the camera.

Kakegurui is an over-the-top high roller. Every game gets accompanied with on screen visuals used in a simple way that works with the film. Twists and turns make the story fly by with ease and even made me wish there was more. Dive into your bankroll and place all your chips on Kakegurui – there is no table limit and all bets are off.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Kakegurui screens at Japanese Film Festival in:

  • Brisbane (Event Cinemas Brisbane Myer Centre – Sunday 27th October, at 3pm)
  • Sydney (Event Cinemas George Street – Saturday 16th November, at 3:25pm)
  • Melbourne (Treasury Theatre – Sunday 1st December at 5pm).

Buy your tickets now at https://japanesefilmfestival.net/film/kakegurui/

Japanese Film Festival Review – ‘Kakegurui’

Reviewed from online screener (provided by GAGA Corporation), Oct. 1, 2019. (Also in Japanese Film Festival, Sydney) BCA-rating: Unclassified 15+. Running time: 119 min.

PRODUCTION: (Japan) A GAGA release of a Dub, Stardust Pictures production. Producers: Yûichi Shibahara, Yanghwe Yoon, Tatsuya Iwakura, Tsuyoshi Matsushita. Executive Producers: Ryûji Abe, Masahiro Kazumoto, Hiroo Maruyama, Satomi Odake, Yasushi Utagawa. Committee Producers: Naoshi Fujikura, Yoshirô Hosono, Hideo Katsumata, Jun Masuda, Katsuyoshi Matsuura, Shinji Nakano, Kazumi Satake, Akihito Watanabe, Tatsumi Yoda, Eisaku Yoshikawa. Line Producer: Tarô Mori.

CREW: Director: Tsutomu Hanabusa. Screenplay: Tsutomu Hanabusa, Minato Takano. From the manga by: Homura Kawamoto, Tôru Naomura. Camera (DCP colour): Takashi Komatsu. Editor: Naoichirô Sagara. Music: Michiru.

WITH: Minami Hamabe, Mahiro Takasugi, Aoi Morikawa, Elaiza Ikeda, Hio Miyazawa, Yûma Yamoto, Yurika Nakamura, Natsume Mito, Ruka Mutsuda, Haruka Fukuhara. (Japanese dialogue)

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