It's rare for me to watch a movie that I remember two years later, let alone one that I not only import on DVD, but that I even end up buying the accompanying comic books too. Or, in this case, the manga. Actually, it's not rare; it's unheard of. While this may not shock those of you who know me well, many suspect that because I work in the videogame industry that I have certain, shall we say, traits. Assumptions are made that I'm into action figures, that I like science-fiction and superheroes, and that I've collected comic books, played Magic: The Gathering or Dungeons & Dragons, and, well, you get the idea. The truth is, the only action figures I've ever owned were a couple of ThunderCats when I was 10; I hate all things Stars, particularly Wars and Treks; I couldn't tell you who the Superfriends are. I'm not even sure if there are Superfriends or if I just made that up. And though I did buy a couple of "Ghost Rider" and "Silver Surfer" comics as a child, 90% of the reading I've done since then has been, gasp, non-fiction. I'VE. NEVER. ROLLED. TWENTY.
Alas, I am a very poor excuse for a geek. But this doesn't mean I can't be swayed. My time spent writing the Batman: Arkham Asylum Official Strategy Guide two summers ago sparked such a keen desire in me to learn more about the Batman universe that I actually bought the "Arkham Asylum" graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean (an exceptional piece of storytelling and art). Though I now have no idea where that book went, I do recall enjoying it considerably (and yes, I do hope to be writing the guidebook for the sequel later this year... fingers crossed).
And that brings us to my foray into manga and Ikigami...
I first watched the movie Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit somewhere over the Pacific, on a flight home from Osaka two winters ago. There are few movies that left such an impression on me. I remember sitting motionless in my seat, eyes tearing: I felt frozen, run over, shocked, and tortured all at once. I tried to describe the movie to friends on multiple occasions, but it always comes out weird. I tried to track it down on Netflix, but it's not available. Alas, I recently found a seller on Amazon with an imported copy (English subtitles, Japanese language audio).
The movie is set in Japan, in an alternate reality in which the government, as part of a plan to increase national prosperity, gives all children a vaccine. One in one-thousand of the syringes contains a tiny capsule that will release a lethal heart-blockage at a known hour, at sometime during their early twenties. The victim is contacted 24 hours prior to the their death and notified that they carry the capsule and will be dead the following day. The government's [flawed] rationale is that by killing 1/1000th of its citizenry, the remaining population will come to value life that much more and better devote themselves to making the most of their time on earth.
The story follows the career of one of the government's messengers, one of the many men whose job is to hand-deliver the death notice (the 'ikigami') to the victims 24 hours before they are set to expire. Each victim's life yields a different tale and the movie centers around three very different final days in the lives of three young Japanese citizens, sentenced to die for seemingly no reason other than to try and encourage others to live more fully.
This is a very interesting philosophical and sociological question. Could eliminating 0.1% of the population be a justifiable means if it ends in a greater life for the other 99.9% of the population? Perhaps. So long as you're not that 0.1 percent. Would seeing someone--an innocent--die a senseless death invoke in you feelings to try harder and make the most of every day? Or would you succumb to feelings of helplessness knowing that you could be next?
Little did I know that the movie was actually based on a long-running series of manga. Amazon is very good about recommending additional purchases to its customers and I hesitantly added the first volume to my cart upon discovering the books. The series began in 2005 by Motoro Mase and consists of eight volumes under the genre of psychological thriller. The books maintain the Japanese right-to-left design ; the only differences is that the speech bubbles have been replaced with English text. It reads quickly and I was flipping the final two-hundredth page in no time at all. And I was hooked. Like novels, the manga not only provides far more detail than the movie has time to include, but it also covers a variety of story arcs. Some of the character-stories from the movie are in the first volume, but also others that aren't. There's also more emphasis on the internal struggle the messenger, Fujimoto-san, must confront with his new career.
I wasn't going to purchase the other volumes at twelve-bucks each on Amazon but Kristin quickly discovered that the King County Library actually has them in their system. She had volumes 2 and 3 delivered to our little Snoqualmie Library the other day -- and the stories keep getting better. I highly recommend checking out the movie and, if you like it, see if your library has the manga. Even Kristin is enjoying them too and she's even got fewer geek genes than me!