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KEY OF LIFE
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KEY OF LIFE (JAPAN) INTERNATIONAL
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Top Customer Reviews
It starts off with a destitute, out of work actor ( Sakurai ) failing miserably at trying to off himself. All around him are the visible signs of his desperate and miserable life situation. His home is total wreck, and well, so is he. While this may not seem all that funny, remember those hidden teeth. Life can be pretty brutal to those who don't achieve. The actor's utter hopelessness sets up the situation that's required to get the film moving in the absurdity it revels in. Next we meet the tight, proper, super-efficient and totally lost in the ideals in her head, Kanae, a young woman so completely naive as to think that she can PLAN to marry by a certain date. She isn't even seeing anyone. In her editorial office, which she runs, she announces her decision to be married to her staff. She is resolute and certain. Yet IF she actually understood Life, moved IN it instead of trying to administrate it like her office, she wouldn't be trying to force it's unpredictable hand like she does.Read more ›
Kanae (Ryôko Hirosue) is a successful magazine editor. She happily announces at work one day that she is getting married - she just hasn't selected the groom yet....Kondo (Teruyuki Kagawa) is a contract killer who decides he needs to use the public bath after his latest mission - it got a bit messy....Sakurai (Masato Sakai) is a down on his luck actor at the end of his rope - literally. After a failed suicide attempt he too heads for the public baths....
.....where he steals Kondo's identity after the hitman falls and blacks out. When Kondo awakes, he has amnesia. Presented with Sakurai's papers, he assumes the actor's life. And then Kanae's path crosses with both men.
Key of Life is a comedy of errors as Sakurai slowly comes to realize that the identity he as stolen may be more than he bargained for. And Kondo, unable to remember his past life, seems quite content to pursue his acting career. Kanae seems to be falling in love with one of the men - but has no idea who he really is.
This was a fun movie to watch. There are many comical bits and the mistaken identity twist is played to the max. However there are serious bits to catch too - familial and societal expectations and the pursuit of love.
Of the three actors, I enjoyed Hirosue the most. I thought her role was well played - understated yet moving. Kagawa and Sakai essentially played two roles and two characters each. Of the two, I enjoyed Kagawa's performance more. Sakai seemed a little over the top with his exaggerated facial expressions that simply annoyed me by the end.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"Key of Life" (2012 release from Japan; 128 min.) brings the story of 3 people and how their lives unexpectedly become intertwined. As the movie opens, we meet Kanae, a 34 yr. old magazine editor who announces boldly that she is getting married in two months. The only problem left to solve is to find a suitable candidate-husband... Afterwards we meet Takeshi, a 35 yr. old aspiring actor who is down on his luck and we just saw failing miserably when he tried to commit suicide. Last we meet Kondo, a ruthless hit man whom we see carrying out his latest hit. Takeshi and Kondo end up going to the same public bathhouse, and when Kondo slips on a soap bar, he hits his head very hard, and loses all memory. In an impulse, Takeshi switches locker keys, and in effect switches identities with Kondo, of course not realizing that he is stepping into the identity of a hit man. Kanae visits the hospital where her father is gravely ill, and where Kondo is recovering. Fate is such that the two meet. To tell you much more of this plot-heavy movie would ruin your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Several comments: even though it tackles a lot of serious issues, this movie is first and foremost a comedy, and at very funny one at that. I found myself laughing out loud a number of times during the movie. Second, with the two lead male roles switching identities, I couldn't help but be reminded of that movie from now 30 (!) years ago, "Trading Places" with Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd. "Key of Life" indeed feels like a Japanese variation of the same theme. Third, kudos to writer-director Kenji Uchida who pulls it all together very nicely, with a perfect cast including the delightful (and beautiful) Ryôko Hirosue in the role of Kanae. This movie has a lot going for it, and kept me entertained from start to finish. But wait! there is more! As usual, the DVD comes with a bonus shortie, and this month's shortie is an equally entertaining 8 min. feature from Hungary called "Finale" in which we get to know two guys sitting at a bar. What are they discussing? Just watch!
Bottom line: if you are in the mood for a quality foreign movie that I guarantee will make you smile if not out-loud laugh, you cannot go wrong with this. "Key of Life" is a welcome addition to the ever-growing Film Movement library of foreign and indie movies. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
However, I was pleasantly surprised with KEY OF LIFE. While there are some broader attempts at physical humor in there – along with a wealth of mirth that plays out visually fairly similar to how it was handled in the era of silent film – most of the genuine charm comes from three slightly unhappy souls struggling with all-too-human flaws. One can’t find love. One can’t find work. One can’t find peace. But they’re all looking for love in the wrong places.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Sakurai (played by a deftly exuberant Masato Sakai) is an underpaid, unemployed actor who – out of desperation – tries to kill himself … only given his proclivity for sweating he fails at that, too! Kondo (a grim Teruyuki Kagawa) is a hitman who’d like nothing better than to lose himself in his love of classical music. Kanae (a mousey Ryoko Hirosue) is a media executive who wants to find herself a husband but only if the marriage can be plotted on a timetable. At fate would have it, the lives of these three characters are about to intersect in unforeseeable ways, and, if they’re lucky, they’ll all find what they’re seeking … unless gangsters kill them before they can figure it out!
KEY OF LIFE has so much going for it that I couldn’t possibly give nods to everything I liked about it. In short, it’s a romantic comedy cleverly wrapped around the classic caper flick – there’s a bloody death (or is there?) that sets these events in motion – and it’s all brilliantly plotted out by director Kenji Uchida in such a way that viewers are drawn into affairs that otherwise appear commonplace. It’s also a comedy of manners – these three disparate characters each come from their own tract in life, so they’re all suffering from their own requisite psychological hang-ups. In the hands of a lesser director, KEY wouldn’t work, but in Uchica’s, it all comes together winningly by the finish.
In fact, the only negative I can pull from all of it is that the running time feels a bit bloated. Rest assured: there are an awful lot of elements that have to be put into place before the true story reveals itself, so it’s understandable why the pace is a bit slow in the film’s opening. However, I thought a lot of Sakurai’s set-up was protracted – he has little dialogue, and there are moments in there that play out very Chaplinesque as he peels back the layers of uncovering just what he’s gotten himself into by assuming Kondo’s life (that’ll make sense if you’ve seen the film). Some of those sequences could easily have been trimmed, and I don’t feel any impact or meaning would’ve suffered from it. Rather, events would’ve sped up a bit, and thus the ending wouldn’t have felt as far away as it did.
It isn’t a matter of quality because KEY is an impressive accomplishment no matter how you slice it. Instead, it’s a matter of taste – get to the meat of the meal, and I’m a happier camper. As this one was edited, I didn’t like waiting for my portion as long as I did.
KEY OF LIFE (2012) is produced by Cine Bazar. DVD distribution is being handled by Film Movement. For those of you needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Japanese spoken language release with English subtitles available (there is no English dubbing available). As for the technical specifications, the highest quality sight and sound – along with some excellent cinematography and an excellence use of musical score – make this one a delight for your eyes and ears. As is sadly often the case, this one comes with no special features related to the primary film, but there is a bonus short film (FINALE) from Director Balazs Simonyi if that sort of thing interests you.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. KEY OF LIFE does indeed serve up the keys to life – hint: it has to do with love – in a big, crowd-pleasing way. Wherever this one has played on the festival circuit, it has enjoyed terrific reviews. It isn’t hard to see why. It’s a smart script, and it’s performed pitch perfect by all players involved. The only reason I’m giving this one four stars instead of five is that, per my particular tastes as a critic, I felt it was entirely too long as a comedy – at two hours and ten minutes, I felt a bit distracted in the last act when it all came together. This could’ve easily been avoided by trimming ten to fifteen minutes out of the first two-thirds, and I think it would’ve increased the story’s effectiveness.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Film Movement provided me with a DVD copy of KEY OF LIFE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
The film opens with a business meeting in which we meet Kanae (Ryôko Hirosue), a 34-year-old magazine editor who announces boldly that she is getting married in two months. Without a candidate for a husband she engages the help of her fellow workers to help her search for the right man during a rather narrow time frame. We next meet Sakuari (Masato Sakai), a 35-year-old aspiring actor who is jobless, living in squalor, and has just failed a suicide attempt. Then we meet Kondo (Teroyuki Kagawa), a wealthy successful hit man carrying out his latest hit. After their simultaneously acts Sakurai and Kondo end up going to the same public bathhouse: Kondo slips on a bar of soap, sustains a concussion, is taken to a hospital where he discovers he has complete amnesia. The somewhat desperate Sakuari switches locker keys, and in effect switches identities with Kondo, of course not realizing that he is stepping into the identity of a hit man. Kanae visits the hospital where her father (who expects his daughter to marry soon) is gravely ill - the same hospital where Kondo is recovering. Fate is such that the two meet. How a failed actor takes on the role of a hit man without much success, and a hit man gains employment as an actor who can convincingly play gangster parts, and how the lovesick Kanae connects with Kondo and helps him try to regain his memory forms the rush to the surprise ending of the story.
There is enough social commentary on relationships and what is love, what is acting, and what is ethical that makes this little film gleam. It is an excellent film from Film Movement and should enjoy success in the art houses. It is a breath of fresh air from the current clutter of over the edge CGI `dramas'! Grady Harp, December 13
Suffice it to say that the three main actors interact in a brilliant and convincing manner that is witty, clever and touching as well. It's rare to find a film that keeps the pace from start to finish without a touch of excess or moment of sluggishness. From the moment one of the characters slips on a bar of soap, starting the trilogy of misunderstandings, I didn't stop chuckling. This is a wonderful and immensely rewarding comedy - one of those gems that come from independent films.
Rating = ****
Director: Kenji Uchida
Producers: Satoshi Akagi et al.
Film = four (4) stars; script = 4.5 stars. Director Kenji Uchida (who also wrote the screenplay) serves up a hugely-inventive, hilarious story (actually multiple stories that converge into one) with stunning (and unexpected) plot twists about trading places by adults (not necessarily grown ups). Things usually turn out to be not as they initially seem. Principal characters include: an apparent contract killer (with an unique body disposal technique); a successful business woman (determined to apply a business model to the process of matrimony with formal vetting of candidate partners, milestones, progress reports, etc.); and a lay-about, good-for-nothing "actor" (sort of contemplating suicide as his final [and, to date, only] role). There is a feel-good, Hollywood-style happy ending for each (as well as for a neko with a walk-on cameo). One ending includes an unexplained car crash (an amusing context injudiciously edited out and/or not reshot?). The Director has set a hectic pace that makes the viewer wonder just where the two hours of movie time went! There are, however, a few hammy gimmicks (including an overly Japanese-cute one using the sound of a car alarm). The Director extracts Goldilocks (just-right) acting performances all round in part by keeping dialog realistic and to a minimum (screaming, sobbing, melodramatic scenery eating, and other typical [and tedious] forms of movie emoting have been banished). Cinematography (semi wide screen, color) is very good with consistent scene lighting and color that makes for near seamless editing. Subtitles are very well done (by a pro who really seems to understands Japanese and English grammar). A delightful gem! WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.