NYAFF 2016: In TOO YOUNG TO DIE, the Devil’s in the Details

 

NYAFF 2016
The New York Asian Film Festival took place between June 22 and July 9. For more information, click here and next time, don’t settle for just reading about it… live the dream, people!!!

“My right hand is Jimi Hendrix’s left hand
My left hand is Kurt Cobain’s right hand
Legs feet and hips are Michael Jackson’s
Voice from voice from Kiyoshiro Imawano”

Daisuke (Ryunosuke Kamiki) is a typical teen, obsessed with his classmate Hiromi (Rie Miyazawa). But all his elaborate plotting to sit next to her on their field trip proves to be futile, as the bus plummets off a cliff, killing everyone aboard.

Now, a movie that more or less starts with the death of an entire high school class – presented as a visual gag – is going to be an acquired taste, no matter how well-executed. But Too Young To Die is, if nothing else, the platonic ideal of a comedy that starts with 30 teenagers dying in a bus crash.

So there’s that.

Daisuke winds up in Hell, and becomes determined to find a way to escape so he can reunite with Hiromi. Which is the exact sort of pie in the sky, short sighted ambition that one would expect from a hormonal 15- year old.

When typed out like that, in handy synopsis form, the outline sounds vaguely similar to What Dreams May Come, the 1999 romantic fantasy where Robin Williams tries to rescue his wife from Hell after she commits suicide, which is… pretty darkly ironic these days.

Ahem.

But, as in all stories, it’s not the story itself, but the details.

The details in this case are that Daisuke plans to rock his way out of Hell, with the assistance of a demonic heavy metal band called Hells.

There, you see? Now you get why we’re talking about all this…

Too Young To Die was, without question, the highlight o the New York Asian Film Festival, and the stats back me up on this: it was the only movie that the Subway Cinema crew unanimously voted into the festival (which, as I learned last year, can be a highly contentious process), AND it won the Audience Award, with record attendance.

Believe the hype; it’s actually that good…

What’s most impressive about Too Young To Die is that it’s a comedy that maintains its hilarity for the entire length of its almost two hours, which is a rare feat. On top of that, it manages to fit in some philosophical musings about the nature of time and connection and of roads not taken.

Daisuke quickly learns he has seven chances to petition Lord Enma (the judge of the dead, who looks exactly like Lemmy) to be reincarnated before he’ll be permanently trapped in Hell and turned into a demon.

Killer K, the lead singer of Hells (who is the proud owner of all the dead rock star body parts previously mentioned), takes it upon himself to become Daisuke’s demented mentor in Hell, and to recruit him to help play the one good song he wrote for the woman he left behind when he died. It’s a union of mutually assured romantic destruction; but as time (which flows differently in Hell than it does on Earth) keeps moving forward, the question starts to become how long you should hold on to a dream in the face of a crushing reality.

Which might sound a little heavy, but just imagine it with kickass guitar solos and shit.

Explaining why a comedy is funny is basically death to comedy, but there’s a level of invention and world building here that elevates the high concept past ‘kind of a funny idea’ and into the realm of ‘straight up inspired’. Unlike the loose, improvisational style that’s taken root in modern comedy, Too Young To Die is carefully, intricately structured. The gags build on one another, crisscrossing and doubling back to achieve maximum hilarity. Improvisation can absolutely be an effective way of garnering loose, unexpected laughs, but when you get right down to it, there’s nothing like a well-executed setup and punchline.

Daisuke travels up and down the evolutionary ladder in his quest to get back to Hiromi (the method of his transport back to Earth becomes a consistently hilarious running gag), but never seems to get any closer to winning Hiromi’s heart (it’s hard to get someone to love you when you’ve been reborn as, say, a seal or a crab…)

But a second act twist creates a kink on the narrative, as an unforeseen tragedy on Earth forces Daisuke to have to choose between his own happiness and fulfilling his promise to Killer K. Given the nature of the tragedy and how much it could have derailed the jokes, it’s all the more impressive that the movie’s funniest beats are still in front of it, including what happens when Daisuke finally manages to reincarnate as a human, which made me laugh so hard I nearly threw up in a completely sold out theater.

Look, there’s not much to say here; either you read the description and you thought it was the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard in your life, in which case you’re stupid and I hate you, or you read it and thought ‘Man alive, I have to see this movie immediately!’, which is the correct response.

It’s pretty much everything you’d hope for from a movie about a Japanese heavy metal band rocking the fuck out in Hell.

Stop reading. Go see it.

Like, right freaking now.

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"V.N. Pryor is the patron saint of the impossible. You could drop the guy off at the Arctic Circle wearing a pair of bikini underwear without his toothbrush and tomorrow afternoon he's gonna show up at your poolside with a million dollar smile and a fistful of pesos..."