Judge Jason Panella always takes a Yakuza after a workout.
If Your Life Has You Down…Try Out Someone Else's.
Did you hear the one about the failed actor and hitman who walk into a bathhouse?
Facts of the Case
Sakurai (Masato Sakai, Legal High) is an aspiring actor who can't get a break. Kondo (Teruyuki Kagawa, Tokyo Sonota) is a legendary underworld operative. Kanae (Ryoko Hirosue, Departures) is a successful magazine editor on the hunt for a husband. Their lives become intertwined thanks to a rogue bar of soap and a well-intentioned identity swap. Comic hijinks ensue.
Key of Life starts off with a bang: hitman Kondo, a consummate professional, fulfills a contract with clockwork precision. It's an effective scene, and a surprisingly serious one for a movie dubbed a comedy. But writer-director Kenji Uchida (After School) knows what he's doing; Key of Life is smartly made, with chunks of drama helping reinforce the expertly constructed screwball comedy at the heart of the film.
And it really is a screwball comedy. Key of Life gets a lot of mileage out of the amnesia and swapped identity elements; some of the best moments come from watching middle-aged Kondo trying to pull off that he's a thirty-something slacker. The same goes for guileless doofus Sakurai as he tries to convince grimacing Yakuza that he's an assassin. The movie is a throwback to Golden Age cinema, its ridiculously complex plot there to generate laughs. Uchida really cares about these characters too—they sometimes get the short end of the stick but, like a lot of classic comedies, you just know things will work out for everyone (after the characters grow a little, of course).
One aspect that might not work for audiences, though, is how the movie takes its time. It clocks in at over two hours, with much of this time spent setting certain elements up just so. I thought Key of Life was perfectly paced, but it takes a while to get to some of the best parts. The movie also relies heavily on some elements of Japanese culture. Most of the humor in the film is pretty universal, but some of the best gags rely on a passing familiarity with Japan and might fly over a lot of viewers' heads.
Film Movement's release of Key of Life features a decent 1.78:1 standard definition transfer and good Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo tracks. The disc includes several trailers (including one for the featured film), some cast bios, and a lovely short film, "Finale" (8 minutes) by Hungarian director Balazs Simonyi.
Key of Life's deliberate pacing and culture-specific humor may make it hard sell for some audiences, but its good-natured approached and ingenious plot twists make for a really enjoyable time. Highly recommended.
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