‘Ordinary is the best.’ But for a girl growing up in an extraordinarily dysfunctional family, ordinary is not as good as her sister wants to believe.
Bike, binoculars and book, just what a voyeuristic young woman needs for her research: to observe those deemed to be society’s oddities and enjoy life in the vacuum of discovery and a new social cohesion.
Nami (Kumi Takiuchi) has always had personal issues, indeed she got herself into lots of trouble when she deliberately injured a boy with a broom at school, taking great pride in her actions. It’s not surprising though, she had been brought up in a strange and unusual family. Her mother left home to help underprivileged children overseas and her father, temporarily heartbroken, then found himself a beautiful but rather peculiar mistress. The situation eventually proved to be too much for her sister, so she left home with her boyfriend, citing the phrase, ‘normal is best’. Still, the television provides entertainment for Nami who starts using daddy’s credit card to buy anything she desires from a multitude of shopping channels with their smiling plastic presenters. And eventually Daddy dies, leaving his daughter piles of cash and a desire to seek her own destiny. She acquires a hobby which involves observing society’s strange and lonely individuals, deemed to be distinctly different and worthy of Nami recording their habits in her diary. She can relate to their solitary worlds as much as she cannot comprehend her sister’s desire to be ordinary, Nami’s psychologically twisted view of humanity resulting in an existence that is a balance between derangement and solitude. She labels the subjects of her observations ‘solitarians’; the elderly, in particular, often being lonely and left to their own devices hold a welcome fascination to Nami, especially when she visits the apartment of an aged solitarian she has been following and discovers him dead but still erect having taken dubious sexual enhancement pills whilst watching pornography. Overjoyed at her discovery, she takes a gleeful selfie of the loner with a boner. When she comes across another elderly, porn watching retired man (Takashi Sasano) her enthusiasm is piqued again. But her new subject is also receiving bible readings by local church volunteers, and this riles Nami, who recalls her years in the company of her father’s mysterious mistress. Perhaps a younger solitarian, one with an alleged murderous history, could be her companion in a situation of enjoyment and resolution to the whole project.
Not to be confused with the The Grateful Dead Movie, the documentary and live concert (and yes, search engines will direct you to Jerry Garcia), Greatful Dead is actually a Japanese social horror comedy that achieves a rare balance between simplicity and complexity, humour and sadism. Directed by Eiji Uchida, a Brazilian-Japanese director, the film tackles a number of social issues, including the problematic subject of religion, but it does this in a manner that escapes from ordinary drama and shuns satire, plunging matters into downright absurdity, in a carefully structured and non-confrontational manner (except for the savage killings, of course). It is a film that twists expectations, initially appearing to be a quirky offbeat drama but then dramatically changes its tone as Nami’s hobby descends into brutality. It is only her infectious smile that remains consistent, initially cute and charming, eventually revealing her psychopathic nature.
A combination of gross and hilarious, Greatful Dead is a delightfully irresponsible indie film: disreputable and unacceptable but also one that tackles issues of religion, gender, society, age and culture amidst the comedy and bloodshed.