Not Quite Dead Yet (Ichido shinde mita)
Japan (2020) Dir. Shinji Hamasaki
Isn’t science great? You can do wondrous things with it and because of it that not only astound the mind but can also defy nature! Shame some people want to take advantage of it for their own personal gain and will stoop to any level to achieve this – even causing death.
Nanase Nobata (Suzu Hirose) is at odds with her scientist father and President of Nobata Pharmaceuticals Kei (Shinichi Tsutsumi) for continuing his research work whilst Nanase’s mother Yoriko (Tae Kimura) passed away in hospital. Meanwhile, rival company Watson Pharmaceuticals wants to merger with Nobata to share the profit from a rejuvenation drug called Romeo that Nobata is working but Kei refuses.
Watson’s President Tanabe (Kyusaku Shimada) conspires with Kei’s assistant Watanabe (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) to force Kei into agreeing to the merger, so Watanabe suggests Kei personally test a drug called Juliet that makes someone clinically dead for two days. Kei takes the pill and dies, but per his will Nanase is to be his successor as president though she has no interest in the role, until she learns of Watanabe’s deceit.
Death is one of those rare subjects that shouldn’t lend itself to comedy but somehow there is a pliability about it that allows for a lighter approach to be taken in dealing with it. Focusing on ghost stories with a comic bent seems to be the easiest route to take, whilst others use it for satire. Not Quite Dead Yet sits somewhere between these two stances with Kei’s death being more a conduit to share some life affirming messages.
First time director Shinji Hamasaki plays it rather safe with this fun, energetic debut in which the content is remarkable family friendly and the bad guys get their comeuppance as they should. Yet look beneath the zany humour and glossy veneer and there are some earnest musings about the importance of family, forgiveness, understanding, and the dangers of playing God through science.
The script by Yoshimitsu Sawamoto, not only relies on running gags and leitmotifs, but is also full of little asides that reveal their importance in call backs later on, that can taken as either clever or contrivance. I won’t spoil any here but for every one of them that is obvious, a few do sneak up on us. One recurring joke involves Nobata employee Taku Matsuoka (Ryo Yoshizawa), such an innocuous presence he is nicknamed “Ghost” and everyone jumps in surprise when they see him.
Matsuoka is hiding in the locker in Kei’s office when Watanabe gives Kei the Juliet tablet, witnessing a groggy Kei signing some papers at Watanabe’s request before he dies. Prior to this, Kei had assigned Matsuoka to follow Nanase about and keep an eye on her as she goes about her daily life since she won’t talk to her father other than to tell him he stinks and should die.
By way of expressing her anger with her father, Nanase fronts a Death Metal band called Soulz, their key song being Death (quite a catchy number actually) with lyrics hoping for her father’s death. Not the easiest way to ingratiate yourself to the audience but Nanase is rebelling against the strict upbringing she had which was dictated by Kei’s passion for science which Nanase enjoyed until her mother died. So when Nanase learns of Kei’s passing her shock and grief isn’t as substantial as it should be.
Kei however is in for a big shock when he is greeted by a guide to the afterlife Hino (Lily Franky) whom he has to persuade his death is temporary. Kei does get to see Yoriko again for a brief moment, although she admonishes him for dying so soon and threatens to kill him if he dies again. Fortunately, Kei can appear as a ghost to Nanase but she is the only one who can see (and smell) him, but can’t hear him.
Providing the impetus to bring about Nanase’s change of heart is the merger of the two companies. Tanabe suggests they cremate Kei’s body before the two days are up so he cannot overrule them upon his resurrection, leading to a game of cat and mouse and Nanase and Matsuoka try to hold a funeral first and thwart their plans. Whilst racing against the clock, Nanase learns more about her father and inevitably, the science facts he drilled into her become handy in desperate times.
On the surface, it doesn’t sound like a challenging film, yet we are subliminally taught about science as well being asked to rethink our ideas on relying on it to change things about our lives which are inevitable. Hidden in plain sight is the epitome of this in Nobata scientist Fuji (Shota Matsuda) nicknamed Gramps for shuffling around like an old man despite being about 30.
And it isn’t just Nanase who is forced to reconsider her attitudes, as ghost Kei discovers to his horror how little people thought of him whilst learning Nanase is her own person and trying to model her after himself was a bit much. So, a happy ending complete with twee reconciliation is assured and a slightly limp way to end things, but the journey is a lot of fun and quite eventful.
Suzu Hirose is only 22 yet already has racked up an impressive CV that would make others jealous. Nanase appears to be an easy gig compared to some of the dramas she has made recently, but as she is obnoxious and selfish for much of the film, Hirose injects the likability into her we knew was there giving Nanase that extra dimension to be a rootable protagonist. Support cast is strong, including a host of cameos too.
Not Quite Dead Yet tackles this morbid topic by playing it for laughs all the way until the sentimental denouement, driven by Hirose’s infectious zest and the blend of silliness and science with a heart warming moral. A crowd pleasing Sunday afternoon comedy to pass (away) the time.