What would you do if someone you loved came back from the dead? What would happen? How would you react? Would it be party time, freak-out time, dead-faint time? 2003's Yomigaeri: Resurrection from award-winning director Akihiko Shiota attempts to answer that question and the resulting film, much like most reanimated corpses, isn't extremely smart and doesn't have a great sense of balance, but this one does pull the heart strings—without eating them.
Mr. Heita Kawada (SMAP singer Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, 2006's Sinking of Japan remake) is a welfare worker, moved far away from home, apparently successful, certainly used to working with people. He must be quite a success, for suddenly he is called back to Aso (his hometown) when an occurrence of reality-shattering import appears to be taking place. Beginning with a little boy who had disappeared years and years before in the forest, folks are coming back to life and appearing to those they left behind—at the exact age that they were when they died, and with no memory of the years that took place after they kicked the bucket. As Heita puzzles over the bizarre occurrences and tries to keep the startling facts away from the press (who seem completely oblivious in this film), he reconnects with an old crush—emotionally unstable Aoi Tachibana (Yuko Takeuchi, 1998's Ring), who is struggling to get over the death of her boyfriend. (Yes, I forgot the name of her boyfriend—shut up.) Aoi meets more and more resurrected loved ones who are lovingly reunited with their families and nearly explodes inside with envy. She finally confronts one of her dead boyfriend's ex-girlfriends, accusing her of hiding him. A struggle breaks out and Aoi falls down a flight of stairs—and into the hospital. Heita rushes to her side and, learning what happened, his heart in shreds, fights all the harder to understand what is happening—to help these people, but more, and even though it destroys him, to bring back his love's lost sweetheart.
The above synopsis makes Yomigaeri sound as if it has one, strong, central story. It would be more accurate to describe it as a number of small stories, with Kawada and Tachibana's tale at the center. There's the story of the little boy coming back to his aged mother. There's Reiko the widowed restaurant owner and her little girl, living alone after her husband's violent departure. Hideya, a somewhat dopey man who works at the restaurant, loves her, but his dreams are abruptly broken when Reiko's dead husband suddenly appears at the restaurant. Hideya is all fire, brimstone, and self-pity—and then runs into his dead older brother, returned as the teenager he was at the time of his death. Yet another story centers around Katsunori Yamada, who committed suicide to escape the intense bullying of his peers—and then finds himself walking into his own funeral, and back into the life of a female classmate who loves him. There is an older man, Dr. Saito, who lost his deaf wife ages past shortly after the birth of their daughter, Sachiko. Sachiko has since become a teacher in a school for deaf children, and they share a tearful reunion. There are several more as well, and of course not all of these stories are dealt with equally. Some are barely touched on, and at times the film wants to become a simple series of episodes meditating on the theme of resurrection. These are touching, if very slim and sometimes very sappy, little stories that are nevertheless occasionally effective.
If it remained as that meditation, the story would probably be stronger. Unfortunately, a hesitant attempt is made to try to explain just what is going on, and it makes about as much sense as your average fever dream. Apparently there is a big hole in the ground that is disrupting the gravitational pull over a certain area of land and apparently sending out pulsating energy waves that reanimate some of those whose remains are within their radius, transporting resurrected locals fully clothed to their pining loved ones. That's about as much explanation as is given, and it leads to a flat-out bizarre sequence in which Heita is desperately driving Aoi's boyfriend's corneas towards the energy field, all the while berating them for all the trouble he's been put through! One thing Yomigaeri's got going for it—it's the only film I have ever seen in which a dude is talking to some bits and pieces of somebody's eyes. The story has a number of obnoxiously unexplained moments, and at one point the resurrected yokels inexplicably reveal an ability to predict whether or not someone is going to die. It's insulting and feels lazy—I would have preferred that they not explain anything at all.
The acting is mostly pretty solid. This was the film that introduced me to Tsuyoshi Kusanagi—although for the longest time I didn't realize he was part of a boy band. I thought he was just an interesting, distinctive actor, and I still feel that way. He has a natural, engaging screen presence. Yuko Takeuchi is equally fine as the somewhat awkward Aoi. She capably handles Aoi's emotional outbursts, as well as her playful flirtations. Aoi's character is quite believable, and Takeuchi must have decided she likes these fantasy films that deal with life and death—she later went on to star as two of the main characters in the similarly themed Heaven's Bookstore.
What's more impressive is that not one of the supporting cast significantly weakens the movie—they all turn in decent to impressive performances. One of the most fun parts for me in watching this movie the second time was recognizing so many of the actors—it's a veritable who's who, overflowing with recognizable faces. Kunie Tanaka, who played the wonderful old man in All About Our House (2001), appears here as Dr. Saito. Hayato Ichihara, who would go on to take the lead part in Check It Out, Yo! (2006), plays the suicidal Yamada. The phenomenally popular Masami Nagasawa, from 2004's Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World, plays Yamada's love interest. Sho Aikawa, who plays the dead husband of the restaurant owner, was the eponymous star of Zebraman. While none of their performances were bad, most of them don't stay around long enough to make a huge impression, either. I should also note that some of the appearances of the resurrected people just were not convincing—they came in like zombies rather than folks with their senses about them. However, the weakest bits of the movie come when characters are called to engage in violence—this film has some of the fakest punches this side of professional wrestling.
Music mostly consists of the slightly overly sentimental instrumental, fitting for the melodrama on screen. Also worth mentioning is the fake J-pop star Rui, created for the film. Rui is yet another of the resurrected characters of the film, and she stages a concert at the end of the film in which three of her songs are played. Rui is realized by real-life pop star Kou Shibasaki, who does have a nice voice displayed here—even if the lyrics are a bit confusing. Her J-Pop as Rui has a slight tribal feel with heavy use of bongo-type percussion along with keyboard to produce a different sound than the high-energy dance stuff that is often so popular.
Yomigaeri is a pleasant viewing experience. When sticking to human drama, it is often rather good, but the brain-dead explanations, some utterly ludicrous scenes, an arguably overdone concert at the end, and a hugely frustrating climax bring down the effort. I like it, but it's not a film that will be coming back to my DVD player often.