Not Quite Dead Yet (Japan, 2020) [JFTFP 2021]

They say, be careful what you wish for, especially when what you wish is someone else’s death. You might just get it, and that’s not good for anyone. That is the subject of Shinji Hamazaki’s debut feature, Not Quite Dead Yet, an irreverent supernatural comedy about death, family, friendship, and a strange kind of love that doesn’t always make sense. Hamazaki’s first feature is somewhat of mixed bag, entertaining at times, but mostly lacking the quirky kind of satisfaction that a film like this must have.

Nanase Nobata (Suzu Hirose) doesn’t get along with her workaholic father (Shinichi Tsutsumi) and despite her prestigious university education, she refuses to join his pharmaceutical company. He’s been mostly absent from her life, including her mother’s death. As such, she spends most of her time professing her hate for her father in her death metal songs, going as far as to wish he was dead. But in a strange twist of events, her father is tricked by a rival into taking an experimental drug that will make him “temporarily dead for 2 days,” in order to take over his company and research. In the end, it’s left to Nanase and the young nerdy employee in charge of following her around, Taku Matsuoka (Rio Yoshizawa), to save her father’s company and ensure that he wakes up safely from his “temporary death.”

Not Quite Dead Yet suffers not so much from a lack of talent (because there’s plenty of it on screen), as it does from a lack of the “right” talent. Hirose came to prominence in 2015 with Hirokazu Koreeda’s Our Little Sister, and since then has delivered many admirable performances in films such as The Third Murder (2017) and the fantastic murder mystery Rage (2016). In Not Quite Dead Yet, however, her performance feels more lost than purposeful. Her comedic chops, stretched to the limit in this film, are not enough to drive the film’s comedy forward, resulting in a ridiculously cartoony performance that is more likely to make you cringe than laugh. The rest of the cast seems equally out of place, adding very little to an already questionable script. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its funny moments, but they mostly arise out of the many wacky situations that the characters find themselves in, and even then, the laughs are short and quiet. The script is far from perfect, but one wonders if a more appropriate cast might have been able to sell it better.

Along similar lines, the film contains several supernatural elements, such as the father’s ghost prancing around his company, are played mostly from comedy but end up being more irritating than amusing. Aside from the lack of consistency, the father’s foray into the “afterlife” serves little purpose in the story. At best they get away with a few cheap laughs while adding a whole lot of unnecessary confusion.

Where the film somewhat redeems itself is in the relationship between Nanase and her father, which despite ample hyperbole (the signature move of this film), possesses a kind of heartfelt realism that is deeply touching. Keeping true to Nanase’s perspective, the audience is taken along for the ride into thinking that Kei is a terrible father. Throughout the film, we see the cause of Nanase’s and her father’s broken relationship through stylish flashbacks – events such as her being constantly harassed about pursuing science at any cost, or her sitting alone by her mother’s death bed. However, not all things are as they seem, and as the plot progresses, we see the father-daughter relationship slowly mending. The father’s fake death is used effectively as a plot device to bring out the hidden love between father and daughter. It’s by no means ground-breaking, but it works.

Overall, Not Quite Dead Yet misses its mark by a lot, despite a few enjoyable moments and interesting – on paper – characters. Sure enough, it starts with a nice premise but ultimately fails to deliver on it.

Not Quite Dead is available for a 48 hour rental window on February 26 from 18:00 (GMT) and March 7 from 10:00 (GMT) as part of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme.