JAPAN 2010  Directed by: Hiroaki Matsuyama Written by: Tsumoto Kuroiwa, Michinao Okada, Toshio Yoshitaka  Manga by: Kaitani Shinobu  Produced by: Shinya Koto, Tomoyuki Miyagawa, Hiroyuki Seta, Ko Wada Music by: Yasutaka Nakata  Cast: Erika Toda, Shota Matsuda, Seiichi Tanabe, Kosuke Suzuki, Yosi Arakawa, Mari Hamada, Toshihiro Wada, Yuki Akimoto, Kento Nagayama, Kazuma Suzuki, Megumi Seki, Michiko Kichise, Ikkei Watanabe

A movie like LIAR GAME: THE FINAL STAGE, just like the TV series or the manga it is based on, you can only understand if you understand the Japanese affection for (or addiction to) gambling in all its possible forms (and forget about the laws, please) as well as the country’s zero-to-hero mentality. Likewise, you can explain the existence of the LIAR GAME franchise only with the above-mentioned circumstances: they are, no doubt about that, the primary reasons for the ongoing LIAR GAME popularity and success.

Those familiar with the manga or TV series will either adore it (the majority) or wonder how you can make it into more than a short story or a very, very short film (the minority). Never mind, the Japanese audience doesn’t, so shouldn’t we. Instead we shall have a look at the latest incarnation of the LIAR GAME, namely its FINAL STAGE (for now) and see if it works on the big screen. As I never belonged to those who thought it works on TV in the first place my answer is no: saying LIAR GAME is cinematic material would an incredible overstatement. Here’s why.

LIAR GAME: THE FINAL STAGE is as low-budget as it gets, shot entirely in 1 ½ rooms, a church-like setting representing the Garden Of Eden stage of the liar game (named after, well, the “Garden of Eden” where Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and were banished from paradise. Meaning, if you can resist the temptation, you will win the game). Everything feels like a TV studio, you can almost sense the crew hiding behind the walls. The video-look is accompanied by befitting visual effects: it is safe to say that the biggest effort obviously went into the title song (a really fine tune) that was marketed in Japan to great success. Bottom line is that LIAR GAME: THE FINAL STAGE is not exactly cinematic, but lives off the dramatization of the game (and the previous TV series of course), purely driven by the moves, tactics and betrayals of the players.

The overly long movie quickly reveals a series of issues, quite like the TV seasons before (and I am not talking about the host’s name, Kelbim, probably the most ridiculous name in movie history, or the fact that he is a copy of SAW’s Jigsaw Killer). For one, I do not see what qualifies Erika Toda’s character as a leader in THE FINAL STAGE. Erika Toda’s own appeal is pretty much all there is: so far her character was the hero of the show mostly because of her naivety = honesty, because she was the only good person upholding morality and caring about the social fabric. Likewise THE FINAL STAGE tries to position itself as a tale of morality, a discourse on trust and values, with the anonymous enemy standing for a corrupt world that is about to bring down humanity.

LIAR GAME, if we take it for what it claims to be, scores fair as a story about greed, corruption of morals and consumerism, as an anti-capitalist statement that comes at the right time in view of the global climate and local situation in Japan. However, LIAR GAME is only scratching the surface of what it wants the world to be like, while spending most of its time on the game and the fascination for gambling and winning against all odds. LIAR GAME and its FINAL STAGE do not have the depth to give us any advice on how to live our lives.

The final round of lies and backstabbing shortly recaps what happened before, and then jumps right into a story that is very constructed (I am avoiding the term “complex” here as that would connote superior logic that it doesn’t have). THE FINAL STAGE is hard to follow at times, going back and forth and round and round, with everyone cheating everyone else, with surprise moves based on nothing, and possibilities emerging out of nowhere like the white rabbit pulled out of a hat. In fact, LIAR GAME: THE FINAL STAGE is so made up that the players spend most of the time not playing, but explaining WTF just happened, and how, and why, in a concerted effort to post-rationalize the actions. Otherwise, THE FINAL STAGE would have lost us five minutes into the film.

If at least the characters were in any way real, but unfortunately THE FINAL STAGE features roles that have little potential for identification, offering no insights into their personality (the best I can say is that seeing the TV series first is almost a prerequisite for getting them to know a little). Without exception they are all one-dimensional decals, and the acting follows suit. And it is difficult to like the overacting: the manga is clearly more subtle, making the film feature the more “manga-like” characters for no reason. Also, most of the “shocking” surprises and true lies I never really found worth mentioning – it’s a game based on deception, so who cares who casts what vote and why.

With the film being incapable to make us feel emotionally attached to any of the players THE FINAL STAGE gets more laughable the more it tries to stress the significance of the player’s moves, strategies and intentions. In the end, the biggest loser is the movie, followed by an audience that was led to believe that this never-ending round of Tic Tac Toe could at least be some sort of KAIJI on a shoestring budget.

Unfortunately that ain’t so: LIAR GAME: THE FINAL STAGE is a tedious conclusion of an equally lengthy TV series, and is as entertaining as sitting in front of a Pachinko machine all night long (I know, you have to be Japanese to appreciate that).







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3 Responses to “LIAR GAME: THE FINAL STAGE [RAIA GEMU: ZA FAINARU SUTEJI | ライアーゲーム ザ・ファイナルステージ]”

  1. MADE IN JAPAN: LIAR GAME – FINAL STAGE [ライアーゲーム ザ・ファイナルステージ] « GONIN MOVIE BLOG Says:

    […] FIND THE FULL REVIEW HERE! – – – – – – – – – — Not to forget, here’s a reminder […]

  2. Chogoling Says:

    This movie was a little too abstract for my taste.
    Good review.

    • J. Says:

      Couldn’t agree more. And the “abstract” didn’t exactly make sense most of the time.

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