Having proved incredibly popular on the small screen during its two series run, manga adaptation “Liar Game” makes its feature length debut with “Liar Game: The Final Stage”. Based on the comic by Kaitani Shinobu and directed by Matsuyama Hiroaki, the film combines the talents of series one writer Furuya Osho and series two writer Kuroiwa Tsutomu to bring things to a spectacular close, with even more betrayals, deceptions and impossibly high stakes. The cast all return, including popular stars Toda Erika (“Death Note”) and Matsuda Shota (“Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit”), who head up the group of contestants vying for the grand prize of 5 billion yen while trying to avoid life ruining debt.
The film kicks off with college student ‘Naïve’ Nao (Toda Erika) being lured back to compete in the final round of the ruthless LGT corporation’s Liar Game in order to support her con man partner and possible romantic interest Akiyama (Matsuda Shota). Facing them off against 9 others and revolving around voting with red, silver and gold apples, the game is now even more intense, with the prize money having been increased from 100 million yen to 5 billion yen, the winner taking all and the losers being landed with crippling debts. Although things seem to start well, with the players essentially having the chance to win through co-operation, it soon becomes clear that there is a traitor in the group, the mysterious Player X, who is determined to finish on top no matter what the cost.
Whilst obviously those who have seen the TV series or are familiar with the characters have a head start, the good news is that “Liar Game: The Final Stage” is still perfectly enjoyable for newcomers, and doesn’t take long to get used to the premise and into the swing of things – in fact, the film quite helpfully begins with a quick couple of minutes’ worth of catch up summarising the events to date. The game rules are clearly explained and laid out at the start, and are both easy to grasp and rife with the potential for Machiavellian scheming. The film is fiendishly clever and compelling, neatly structured and packed with deceit and backstabbing, with the ever shifting allegiances and plans making for tense, gripping viewing. Although at two hours and fifteen minutes the film may sound overlong, it passes incredibly quickly and has a non-stop energy that makes it all rather exhausting.
One of the reasons that the film works so well is that it clearly aims first and foremost to be an entertaining thriller rather than anything too deep, with an unpretentious emphasis on excitement and suspense. Although it does touch on a few psychological issues and flirts with the issue of human greed, there’s nothing too heavy handed, with writers Furuya Osho and Kuroiwa Tsutomu primarily concentrating on bouncing the viewer around like pinball in trying to guess the identity of Player X. The film is certainly manipulative, though since this is entirely in-keeping with the game itself, this is forgivable, and indeed a key part of the fun. Things are amusingly over the top throughout, with plenty of hysterics, shouting, overwrought emotions, and face pulling along the way. The film is all the better for not taking itself too seriously, though at the same time is oddly more believable than others which have the same game show style plot, with the threat of debt being arguably more down to earth and engaging than the usual gruesome death shenanigans seen in the likes of “Death Tube” and others.
The characters are an oddball though funny bunch and the film manages to balance laughs with thrills without undermining the tension. Matsuda Shota is fittingly suave and sneaky as the vaguely ambiguous Akiyama, though it’s Toda Erika who essentially carries the film, likeable, naïve, ditzy and cute. The fact that she relentlessly believes in the good in people and that they can work together as a team, despite the endless betrayals, is both endearing and comical, and this makes for a number of entertainingly daft scenes and impassioned speeches.
Director Matsuyama Hiroaki takes an appropriately hyper-energetic approach to the film, making it flashy, frantically stylish and very much in the manner of the comic. Colourful throughout, the film also features a variety of nice touches, with lots of cartoons and graphics jumping out of the screen, at times to help explain plot points, and at others seemingly just for effect. The sets are pleasantly bright and wacky, with some dynamic camera work hiding the fact that the film basically takes place in just a handful of rooms and is really just people talking and bickering. The music is loud and pumping throughout, and this does at times give the viewer the feel of having been overloaded with caffeine and let loose in a particularly gaudy pachinko parlour.
Whilst this does mean that “Liar Game: The Final Stage” is probably not recommended for anyone looking for something sedate or laid back, for everyone else it serves up a couple of hours of incredibly manic entertainment that grips from start to finish. Working well whether or not the viewer is familiar with the television series or manga, the film is surprisingly effective, and is definitely one of the best of the continuingly popular Japanese high stakes game show subgenre.
Hiroaki Matsuyama (director) / Shinobu Kaitani (manga), Tsutomu Kuroiwa, Michinao Okada, Toshio Yoshitaka (screenplay)
CAST: Erika Toda … Kanzaki Nao
Megumi Seki … Takeda Yukina
Shôta Matsuda … Akiyama Shinichi
Michiko Kichise … Eri
Seiichi Tanabe … Sendou Arata
YosiYosi Arakawa … Nishida Jirou
Kazuma Suzuki … Yokoya Norihiko