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Review: ReLIFE

relife-posterThe film of ReLIFE is the latest iteration of what may well be a multimedia sensation in Japan: a manga and an anime have come before, and millions of copies have been sold. Unlike many other three-headed beasts, all three are available in translation. Naturally, trying to tell four years of story in two hours results in some concatenation, and that’s what leads to… ReLIFE.

27-year-old Arata Kaizaki (Taishi Nakagawa) is unemployed and disillusioned. He is propositioned by the youthful Ryo Yoake (Yudai Chiba) to join the ReLIFE program, which promises to make him 17 for a year, pay all of his expenses, and employ him upon completion. A newly 17-year-old Kaizaki finds himself in school, has to learn to study again, and becomes intrigued by the mysterious and introverted Chizuru Hishiro (Yuna Taira).

ReLIFE doesn’t really address the fundamental flaw in its argument: no one really wants to redo their last year of high school ten years later, especially if it involves heavy studying and attempting college entrance exams. The high school life may offer that which all Japanese movie teens partake in — summer fireworks and yukata, trips to amusement parks and bus rides to the beach — but the real work that needs to be entered into and the generalised lack of autonomy your average teen possesses is not taken into consideration as a downside of this harebrained scheme.

ReLIFE has most of the problems attendant on live-action films that condense a lot of manga into a two-hour time frame. It overcomes several of them by shrinking the support cast substantially, but the characters that we end up with are largely less than two dimensional, used to create brief moments of colour that add little depth; there’s a girl with glasses in the film’s main clique who is never introduced, is barely named, and has nothing to do. The compression of a school year means that the progression of Hishiro’s relationship with Kaizaki and his friends is strangely paced — Hishiro resolves to join them in the April segment but doesn’t do anything social with them until August — but ReLIFE ultimately manages to overcome most of these problems by presenting an overall strong bond between the two of them, even if Japanese filmmaking thinks that adding spectacles to a character is sufficient to age them by ten years.

Director Takeshi Furusawa, who graduated from horror films to manga adaptations, knows how to construct the film, although he could easily have split the difference between his slow-motion and sped-up scenes by shooting everything in normal motion. He is hamstrung by the structure of Kumiko Aso’s script, which is in turn hamstrung by its source material, but it all works on the surface level. The core cast are charismatic, although the supporting members often flounder for material, and Chiba doesn’t show up often enough to serve a purpose; when he is on screen, the film remembers its higher concept, which mostly otherwise remains in shadow.

ReLIFE is fairly standard manga-to-live-action adaptation fare that hits all of the right notes without exactly developing them. Nakagawa and Taira bring enough gravity to their roles to keep the movie from flying away, but it’s the sort of film that you know has sacrificed a lot of substance that can be found elsewhere. If you’re allergic to anime or manga, ReLIFE may be enough to satisfy your hunger for regressed teens, but otherwise you might be better off finding another form of the same story.

ReLIFE is screening in Australia as part of the Japanese Film Festival, which tours the country between October 13 and December 3, 2017.

Directed by: Takeshi Furusawa.

Starring: Taishi Nakagawa, Yudai Chiba and Yuna Taira.