Sunday, 16 September 2012

“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” Movie Re-made in Japan

The 1997 German film Knockin' on Heaven's Door (co-written by director Thomas Jahn and one of the stars, Til Schweiger) is one of my all time favourite films. It came on late one night when I happened to be sitting in front of the TV and I was hooked in the first five minutes. When Rutger Hauer made his cameo appearance towards the end I felt like my heart would break from the perfection of it.

The story is a perfect combination of unlikely but passionate friendship, inevitable tragedy and cheeky action. The characters in the original film are a good-for-nothing bad boy and a timid, knitted vest-wearing man who meet in hospital after being told they both have weeks or maybe days to live. They steal a car to visit the ocean before they die, but the car belongs to gangsters who subsequently chase them across the country to get it (and the contents of the boot/trunk) back.

The Japanese version came out in 2009, so this isn’t really news, but I only just got around to watching it. I was curious how a Japanese film would handle the road-trip aspect of the story. In Germany driving to the sea side is a convincingly epic adventure, but in Japan no-where is all that far from the coast. And, of course, the Japanese version replaced the timid man with a fourteen-year-old girl. I was expecting it to be pretty terrible, but it was really good! It lacked the incredibly moving man-love that made the German original so compelling, but instead the bad-boy character (played by Tomoya Nagase) adopted a very sweet older-brother attitude to the young girl. It didn’t enter the creepy territory I had worried about. I had hoped that Rutger Hauer's character might have been played by Beat Takeshi, but sadly it was not to be. They changed the gangster boss to a tax-fraud motivational speaker, which was quite cleaver. They also suggested a link with the governor of Tokyo, which I suspect may have been a dig at Ishihara Shintaro (who certainly deserves it).

Some scenes were taken shot-for-shot from the original (lemons pouring from a cupboard in the hospital kitchens for example), while others were given a Japanese spin (shopping in Harajuku). I was disappointed that the bank robbery, one of my favourite scenes from the original, occurred off screen in the Japanese version. I did enjoy the Japanese take on it though: they rob a post office rather than a bank, but in Japan all post offices are also outlets for the post office bank. For the rest of the film they kept talking about the “not bank robbery, post office robbery”.

I definitely recommend seeing the original first if you haven’t. It packs a much bigger emotional wallop. But do also check out the Japanese version, it is a lovely re-make and quite sweet. If at all possible I would avoid “The Bucket List”, which takes one of the key premises from the German film.
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