Ghosts that haunt the living for laughs have been Hollywood staples going back to at least “Topper.” In this 1937 comedy, a feckless young couple (Cary Grant and Constance Bennett) die in a car crash and, as ghosts, decide to bring fun to the life of their stuffy older pal, Cosmo Topper (Roland Young). Comic ghosts can also be found in Japanese films, as in Koji Maeda’s 2015 “Till Death Do Us What?,” starring Kuranosuke Sasaki as a bereaved widower whose wife (Hiromi Nagasaku) returns as a free-spirited spook.
The latest in this line is “Not Quite Dead Yet,” the feature debut of TV ad director Shinji Hamasaki. Based on an original script by Yoshimitsu Sawamoto, the film may be a manic, strident farce, with the principals loudly playing cartoons, but it’s also instructive about Japanese attitudes toward the afterlife, which are not quite Hollywood’s.
An ad industry veteran who has accumulated a long list of prizes and connections, Hamasaki has assembled a cast of big names, many in cameos — and mostly wasted. The biggest is Suzu Hirose who, since her breakthrough in the 2015 Hirokazu Kore-eda drama “Our Little Sister,” has starred in films, television dramas and, most lucratively, ad campaigns now numbering in the dozens. This “it” girl, however, never anchored a comedy prior to “Not Quite Dead Yet” — and her idea of funny is to be floridly irate, while giving her facial muscles a thorough workout. Watching her in action as the ever-aggrieved heroine, I was imagining that real-life hell would be a gig as her personal manager (though I’m sure her fans will inform me that in person she’s an angel).
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||93 mins.|
She plays Nanase Nobata, the daughter of Kei Nobata (Shinichi Tsutsumi) a pharmaceutical company CEO. Since childhood, her eccentric, single-minded dad has been grooming her as his successor, while relentlessly pumping her head full of science, to the distress of her tender-minded mother (Tae Kimura), who passed away when Nanase was a teenager.
Now a college senior, she fronts a popular death metal band and dreams of making her major-label debut, though Kei commands her to quit the band and join his company every time he looks at her. She angrily pushes back, telling him to drop dead.
He does just that not long after, which is a shock to Nanase, as well as Taku Matsuoka (Ryo Yoshizawa), a nerdy employee at Kei’s company nicknamed “Ghost” for his ability to fade into the woodwork. Assigned by Kei to spy on Nanase, he inadvertently witnesses Kei’s demise, caused by the ingestion of a company-developed drug that delivers a temporary death that lasts only two days.
Post-mortem, Kei learns that he is the victim of corporate intrigue. Over the protests of his debonair escort to the other world (Lily Franky), he returns to the land of the living — and Nanase, the only one who can see him, if not hear him. Meanwhile, his enemies are plotting to cremate him before his two days of death are up. Can Nanase and Taku save him?
More important plot-wise than their harum-scarum rescue, however, is the broken father-daughter relationship. Both sides eventually try to repair it, though the normally loquacious Kei has to communicate with Nanase via charades, one of film’s few halfway funny bits.
But alive or cinematically dead, Cary Grant reigns supreme.