Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler

Genre: Psychological Thriller
Format: 1 Live Action Movie
Allegiance: 4Digital Media
Director: Toya Sato
Vintage: 2009
Intelligence Agency Report by: Drake
After graduating high school, Kaiji moves to Tokyo to find work, but is unable. Two years pass and nothing changes. In these two years, Kaiji begins drinking cheap liquor, gambling, and playing small pranks such as slashing tires. This all changes one day when Kaiji is paid a visit by a debt collector named Endo who informs Kaiji that he owes money on a loan he cosigned with a coworker. The amount is staggering, and Kaiji is offered a choice: spend the next ten to fifteen years paying back debts, or board a gambling ship, Espoir (hope in French), for one night, gambling with loaned money to repay his debt and maybe even turn a small profit. However, if he fails to win the gamble he will be forced into the most brutal of manual labor for two years. Unknown to Kaiji, he is being set up by Endo to enter and fail. Can Kaiji overcome the gamble aboard the Espoir, or has he just sealed his fate?

Field Agent Report by: Drake
Overall 5.50

I actually had relatively high hopes for this movie. These were mostly due to the anime counterpart, which was extremely demented and a total mind game, but was also a really well-done anime. So imagine my disappointment when I popped in the Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler DVD from 4Digital Media and realized that this movie was a heavily watered-down version of the anime.

So where did the movie go wrong? Firstly, the emphasis was placed on all the wrong parts of the story. Especially the scene aboard the Espoir, which is a very critical scene that pushes viewers to begin forming the proper mindset for the rest of the season by second guessing, examining, and reexamining every move made by the characters. Instead, the movie barely touched on the scene and cut out many key elements of the night. However, it made up for it in a way by showing what life was like for those who did not win the gamble aboard the Espoir. These new scenes tightened the story a bit and made it feel more connected than the anime. Though as always in the second part, the Human Derby arc was really weak and failed once again to incite empathy for the men going through this life-threatening experience, and it kind of detoured from the main idea of the movie as a psychological thriller full of mind games. I was also disappointed with the movie’s ending, especially the changes and omission.

To top it off, the acting wasn’t anything spectacular save for Tatsuya Fujiwara (Kaiji), who did a decent job of portraying his character and emotions. Although his performance was still not as believable or as emotionally driven as I would have liked, it was really weird to see the man I associate with Light Yagami playing such an opposite role. Unfortunately, for all the talk of Death Note (Live Action)’s cast reuniting in this movie, I was pretty disappointed given that Kenichi Matsuyama’s role as Sahara was really short-lived at about ten minutes of screen time.

This movie is a decent supplement to the series, but by no means is it a replacement. It definitely lost a lot of that creepy, demented feeling that is present in the anime, as well as the amazing suspense of trying to keep up with what is really going on and who is being taken for the real fool. If you’re really interested in getting the full experience of the Kaiji series, I’d recommend the anime instead.