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Although not particularly well known internationally, the rescue diver themed “Umizaru” franchise has been hugely popular back in Japan, from its beginnings as a comic, through to a first big screen outing in 2004, subsequent television series, and 2006 sequel “Limit of Love Umizaru”, which ranked as the country’s biggest box office hit of the year. “Umizaru 3: The Last Message”, the third and final entry in the series, was an even more lavish blockbuster style affair, being one of the few Japanese films to have been converted to 3D for the big screen. The film saw the return of director Hasumi Eiichiro and scriptwriter Yasushi Fukada along with lead stars Ito Hideaki (who also flirted with disaster in “252: Signal of Life”), Kato Ai (“The Triumphant General Rouge”), Sato Ryuta (“Gachi Boy”), and was duly another massive commercial success.
Ito Hideaki reassumes his role as Daisuke, now captain of the rescue diver team and married to girlfriend Kanna (Kato Ai), who has just given birth to their first child. Considering quitting his dangerous career to look after his family, Daisuke is called back into action for his toughest challenge yet, after a giant offshore gas platform is struck by a drilling ship, causing a chain reaction of explosions. After he and his men arrive on the platform, they find themselves cut off from the rest of the rescue fleet, the platform sinking and a typhoon on the way. At the same time, they come under fire from government bureaucrats who order them to try and save the platform in the name of the national interest, even if it costs them their lives.
Anyone who hasn’t seen or even heard of the previous entries in the “Umizaru” series need not fear, as “The Last Message” is at heart very much a straightforward disaster movie, and although fans will obviously get more out of the characters and their relationships, it still works perfectly well for newcomers. The film does have a more interesting setup than other recent genre outings, mainly by being more grounded and believable, avoiding any over the top doomsday type scenarios and focusing mainly on its likeable protagonist. Similarly, the film doesn’t overpopulate itself with the usual ensemble cast of walking clichés, and achieves a good level of camaraderie between Daisuke and the rest of his team. At over two hours it probably could have done with some trimming, in particular of the rather pointless scenes involving Kanna basically sitting around at home and waiting for news, though even its most melodramatic excesses and tangents are never too offensive.
Perhaps most importantly, the film really delivers in terms of spectacle, with some of the best visuals seen in a Japanese-made blockbuster to date. Although the 3D obviously doesn’t count for much on the small screen, the film has some genuinely thrilling set pieces and awesome shots of the crippled gas platform as it slowly creeps closer to destruction. Director Hasumi Eiichiro wisely never leaves it too long between incidents, and the film does get pretty tense as it progresses, with everything imaginable going wrong and survival for all seeming increasingly unlikely. At the same time, the script never loses sight of its characters, and though there are plenty of explosive action scenes it never comes across as a simple rollercoaster ride. The special effects themselves are uniformly top notch, and although Eiichiro does go a little overboard with the slow motion at times, this never causes too much of a problem.
For followers of the series, “Umizaru 3: The Last Message” is obviously a no-brainer, ending it on a suitably show stopping and emotionally satisfying note while serving up the same brand of character based excitement. Thanks to a big heart and some amazing production values it should also be enjoyed by disaster movie fans in general, with enough fireworks and human drama to keep it afloat through its slightly overstretched running time.
Eiichiro Hasumi (director) / Yasushi Fukuda (screenplay), Shuho Sato (manga)
CAST: Hideaki Itô … Daisuke Senzaki
Ai Katô Ai Katô
Shôhei Miura Shôhei Miura
Ryûta Satô Ryûta Satô
Sohee Park Sohee Park … Dong Il Lee