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Year: 2012
Country: 
Japan
Language: Japanese
Director: Matsuyama Hiroaki
Adaptation from:
Shinobu Kaitani’s manga「ライアーゲーム」(Raia Gemu/Liar Game)
Screenplay: not credited
Cinematography: Miyata Nobu
Soundscore: not credited
Cast: Matsuda Shota, Tabe Mikako
Runtime: 131 min
Trailer: on YouTube
Film’s official website: in Japanese only

Seen on a British Airways flight from London to New Delhi (August 2012). The theatrical and/or DVD versions may differ slightly.

As you might guess from a title like Raia Gemu – Saisei, there is a lot that precedes this film. It all starts with a manga,「ライアーゲーム」(Raia Gemu/Liar Game, 2005 – ongoing), which went on to inspire two seasons of a TV drama (2007, 2009), a first film (「ライアーゲーム ザ・ファイナルステージ」/Raia Gemu za Fainaru Suteji/Liar Game – The Final Stage, 2010), a spin-off drama series  「アリス イン ライアーゲーム」 (Arisu in Raiagemu/Alice in Liar Game, 2012) and of course Raia Gemu – Saisei itself.

Raia Gemu, the manga.

The chapter count for the original manga itself currently stands at a mind-boggling 150-something, obviously making it a series with plenty of fans. Classified as seinen drama with a focus on psychological elements, the manga’s basic premise is quite intriguing: individuals are sent a suitcase full of money (¥100,000,000 in the manga, ¥1,000,000 in this film) with an invitation to participate in the Raia Gemu (Liar Game). They are, so they are told, part of a select group of a lucky few that have been given this chance to win millions of yen, the manipulation of minds thus beginning early with this lure of the money and a threat that pulling out is essentially impossible. In the case of Raia Gemu – Saisei, an adaptation of volumes 11-13 (chapters 106-138) of the manga that cover the ‘Fourth Round’ of the game, Shinomiya Yu (Tabe Mikako) receives the troublesome invite on the day she graduates from university. At a loss at what to do, she seeks out one of her former professors, Akiyama Shinicha (Matsuda Shota), whom she never talked to once previously.1 However, as he teaches psychology she believes he may be able to help her out.

Akiyama dismisses the game and the threat that comes with it, advising Shinomiya to simply ignore the letter, something she fails to do. Too worried that she might end up with a debt of a million yen, she shows up at the game site – an abandoned complex of buildings, half in ruins, somewhere outside of the city. There she meets the other participants of the game, a group of around twenty people, diverse in nature and including some rather eccentric (i.e. manga-ish) individuals. At last minute they are joined by Akiyama, who claims he has not come to help Shinomiya but that he has received an invite of his own. It soon turns out that there are not only former contestants among the players but that Akiyama himself has previously taken part and won the Liar Game.

Musical chairs.

In this installment of the Raia Gemu it is a variation on ‘Musical Chairs’ on which players must stake their fate. The task is to find one of a limited number of chairs – hidden somewhere on the sprawling site – to seat themselves in within an allotted time. They have also received twenty tokens each with their name engraved to exchange with one another, a tactic which can earn them a share of the prize money even if they lose the actual game. The first round soon reveals that the game is anything but straightforward, participants – particularly those not as innocent and pure-minded as Shinomiya – are willing to deceive one another, although to what degree is only slowly revealed as rounds progress further.

This is as much plot it makes sense to divulge, for it is the specific tricks and twists that make the story. Unfortunately, this is also where Raia Gemu – Saisei fails: while the premise of mind games and psychological manipulation is intriguing, it doesn’t quite work within the medium of a film. With a limited runtime (even at over two hours) a scenario that relies on one deception following another makes each trick feel somewhat underdeveloped and the plot repetitive. In the original manga and the dorama (I have had a peek at both, although I have not viewed them in their entirety) chapters and episodes constitute separate units, allowing for each trick to play out slowly, unfolding itself in full glory and creating tension that keeps fans on the edge. With breaks in between chapters and episodes (the manga is published on a weekly basis, the dorama equally aired once per week), it all also feels less like more of the same. The film, meanwhile, crams it all in, again and again, trying too hard to impress viewers with its quick-paced cleverness. Although it is unlikely that there are any holes in the script (bloopers would be devastating for this sort of film), it is easy to lose track who gives whom which token, who has voted for which other person and why, or how far back each act of trickery reaches – or to even care about all this: Raiu Gemu – Saisei does not ask for this kind of mental commitment. Tricks are not predictable in their exact form, but we do come to expect them as well as their resolution before the next round of the game commences, delivered to viewers on a silver platter by mastermind Akiyama and the rest of his clan.

Playing the Game: Akiyama and Shinomiya.

After a while it all feels just a little bit too clever – and pretentious. Raia Gemu – Saisei, however, is not the first film to suffer from such a flaw: true narrative ingeniousness is difficult to pull off.2 Although Raiu Gemu- Saisei doesn’t quite satisfy or leave any sort of lasting impression and although I would recommend the source manga and its dorama adaptations over the film, it is entertaining enough for a couple of hours, certainly on a long distance flight.

Footnotes

1 Shinomiya is a replacement character for the manga’s female lead Kanzaki Nao, presumably because Toda Erika (who played Kanzaki) was unavailable when Raia Gemu was being filmed due to other film commitments. Hence, some storyline changes (Akiyama as a psychology professor) were needed. Making the 26-year old and young-looking Matsuda a professor is a bit of a stretch though.

2 The Argentinian Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens, 2000) is a rare example of a film that achieves this.

Overall Verdict: Although the premise of a game of deception and a lure of vast amounts of money are interesting enough, it does not quite fit the medium of a film, providing entertainment for the duration of Raiu Gemu – Saisei’s runtime only. You might opt to explore the manga or its dorama adaptations instead.

Rating: 7/10 (debating between 6.5 and 7 really)

Bonus Bits:

  • The film was released in Japanese cinemas in March 2012.
  • In Japan, the manga is apparently on hiatus at the moment.
  • The manga has been translated into a number of languages, including Chinese, Dutch, Italian (Planeta DeAgostini) and French (TONKAM). As far as I can determine, no licensed English translation is available.
  • There is however an English fantranslation – you can read it here. (Note: If/when the manga gets licensed in English, I will remove this link.)
  • I wasn’t able to find any reviews of the film (at least not in English).

Image Gallery:

  • Includes manga cover images (some of which I rather like), a poster for the dorama as well as screenshots for the Raia Gemu – Saisei instalment.