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Key of Life - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Kagi Dorobo no Mesoddo

Japan 2012

Comedy, Drama

Kenji Uchida

Teruyuki Kagawa
Masato Sakai
Ryoko Hirosue
YosiYosi Arakawa
Yoko Moriguchi
Sayuri Oyamada
Hana Kino
Takehiko Ono

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Key of Life

Story: Kondo (Teruyuki Kagawa) is a professional killer. However, one day he visits a public bath house and slips on a piece of soap. The ambulance takes him and his belongings to the next hospital, but unemployed Sakurai (Masato Sakai) switched the locker keys. Using Kondo's money he pays back his various debts and eventually wants to return Kondo's things. But at the hospital he finds out that Kondo has lost his memory. Thus, Sakurai quickly decides to switch identities with the man. He now drives an expensive car and lives at a fancy apartment. Kondo on the other hand is trying to find out about his identity through his past. Apparently, he has been an actor who wasn't really successful. By chance he becomes friends with chief editor Mizushima (Ryoko Hirosue), who is desperately looking for a husband since she wants to marry before her father dies. Kondo is the man she has laid eyes on, but it only seems to be a question of time until the killer remembers his true identity. Moreover, Sakurai is approached by a man, who wants to hire him for another task...

Review: Movies that center around memory loss are as frequent as hydrogen atoms in a cup of water. Consequently, "Key of Life" isn't really arousing our interest, but the charming story still manages to win you over since the identity swapping offers well elaborated characters that give the movie more profoundness than you would expect at first. Moreover, this comedy manages to score with a well written screenplay as well, which is full of small details you aren't used to see in a movie of this kind. The actual twists in the film may turn out to be rather characteristic for the genre, but the countless well-achieved small aha experiences make "Key of Life" a special movie that provides us with the rarely seen benefits of a neatly worked out screenplay.

Key of Life - Film Screenshot 11

The first half of the film we watch the two protagonists try to find their way in a life that isn't their own. That's fun to watch and introduces us to the characters in an extraordinary way as we in part have to look behind their new self in order to see the old one. Kondo is searching for himself and derives personal preferences from his (fake) surroundings that aren't his. But his original habit to constantly document everything and plan his life in detail can't be discarded just like that. In the end we see a likeable guy and accordingly the picture of a man, who is still a human being and not the coldblooded killer that we see in the beginning. However, he still has the talent to easily slip into different roles and so he seems to be a better actor than the real Sakurai.

Key of Life - Film Screenshot 12

Sakurai on the other hand is sick of life and his remorse, being the result of stealing Kondo's money and life, draw him as a good guy. Naturally, the former actor is plunged into a dangerous mission which he is no match for. The film's first hour passes by rather quickly and is entertaining in a lighthearted manner without "Key of Life" putting one insignificant scene after the next which are merely aiming at some cheap laughs. During the second half Kondo's memory is restored, which surely isn't a surprise. Now the two main characters somehow have to solve their problems together. That's when the comedy becomes rather predictable, yet it luckily still doesn't become a cheap slapstick exercise. Nonetheless, that's where "Key of Life" undoubtfully drags on too much.

Acting-wise there is a strong foundation. Teruyuki Kagawa ("Tokyo Sonata", "Kaiji") convinces in all of his scenes and is allowed to show a broad acting range. Masato Sakai ("Golden Slumber") looks deliberately amateurish during the moments he acts in the movie, but towards the end he proves his skills in some important scenes. Ryoko Hirosue ("Departures") convincingly embodies the emotionally cold businesswoman, who has never experienced love, and the looming love story never becomes corny. In its core the plot is pretty simple and it actually revolves around love, although this aspect thankfully is always tackled below the surface, but woven around this core are numerous subplots that constitute the comedy's actual appeal.

Key of Life - Film Screenshot 13

The subplots never seem out of place since they are always tightly woven into the main plot and flow into it. This makes for a surprisingly coherent overall picture. Oftentimes, scenes, words or things which at first seemed unimportant turn out to be crucial later on, e.g. Sakurai visiting his ex-girlfriend in order to bring her the money he borrowed from her. Next to a technically impeccable execution it's particularly the small details the screenplay keeps a close eye on that make this comedy so appealing. Furthermore, the humor is quite unobtrusive, yet manages to keep the atmosphere lighthearted at all times, even when some gangsters enter the stage. The interesting characters and the nice details thus make "Key of Life" a comedy that can make you laugh, but can also deliver some serious moments without deviating from the main mood of the movie.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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