Maybe it's a coincidence, maybe people have been
spying on each other's work, but with Matsuyama's Liar Game: The Final
Stage and Nakata's Incite Mill appearing almost simultaneously, Japan
has two conceptually very similar films on offer. The direction takes
both films different places, but it remains hard not to compare both
films. That said, Liar Game is the clear winner for me, getting much
more out of its initial concept.
The title already suggests that this film is part of a bigger franchise.
In 2005 the Liar Game manga was serialized, shortly after a TV-show was
made. This film serves pretty much as the conclusion of that series,
but no worries, even without prior knowledge of the characters or
concept the film is pretty easy to follow. The beginning of the film is
crammed with all the information you need to know, so you won't feel
left out on anything later on.
Liar Game is all about deception and outsmarting the other contestants. A
small group of people has gathered into a game room to start the
ultimate game of deceit, only one of them will win the 50 million yen
jackpot. The downside? If you end the game with a debt, the debt becomes
real and should be paid in full to the hosts afterwards. The game
itself is quite complex and the explanation at the start may be a little
too hasty to take everything in the first time around, but the finer
mechanics are adequately explained during the course of the film. Don't
be put off if you're a little lost these first 10 minutes, everything
will make sense by the end of the film.
All characters get their five minutes of fame, but the main focus of the
audience lies with Nao, the most naive and gullible contestant of the
group. Rather than deceive, she tries to get everyone together, hoping
to maximize the profit of each player. Needless to say, her attempts are
in vein and not long after the first of thirteen rounds people are
eying each other from all parts of the game room, trying to outsmart the
rest of the group.
While Matsuyama goes through great lengths to elevate this film above
the visual limitations of TV series material, he doesn't quite fully
succeed. The film looks pretty great though: strong colors, nifty camera
tricks and a visually lush setting, but the editing and buildups of
scenes often resemble the short attention span and hasty climaxes found
in TV series. It's a small detail but within the film's 2 hours running
time it does start to show after a while.
The soundtrack is pretty decent, high octane stuff that keeps the blood
pumping and lends the film the necessary excitement in the right places.
It's not something that would ever work outside the film and it's not
all that in your face either, but it does work on a more subconscious
level, granting the film some extra excitement and a definite sense of
As for the acting, Liar Game is clearly a manga/anime adaptation. Don't
expect realistic characters or well-developed human emotions, each
character is a clear stereotype that keeps very close to his or her
intended purpose. If you can't stand the typical Japanese overacting
this will definitely turn you off, but with people like Erika Toda,
YosiYosi Arakawa and Toshihiro Wada you have a capable team of actors
to get the job done.
Even though the concept of the film is pretty interesting, you might
even go as far as to call it original, the film itself is quite
predictable. Of course there are a couple of nice turns and twists along
the way (some a little far-fetched but that is part of the game
really), but the ending is pretty much fixed from the start and the film
doesn't make much effort to hide it from its audience.
And even though you could easily cite some films that served as possible
inspiration for Liar Game (Battle Royale, The Experiment, Saw - just to
name a few), the mix still feels fresh and the setup is more than
interesting enough for two hours of tense gaming fun. Once everyone is
properly introduced and the players are trying to outsmart each other,
the entertainment value stands solid and remains constant for the
remainder of the film.
Liar Game has a couple of minor flaws and doesn't quite escape its TV
background, but it has plenty of positive elements to erase these minor
shortcomings. It's highly entertaining, shamelessly in your face,
visually gratifying and overall satisfying. Neat concept, strong
execution, barrels of fun. What more could you ask for?
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