The Chasing World was a surprise. I was expecting something more predictable, a day-glo world of gory creature effects and shouting, perhaps something like Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl. What I got was an efficiently-constructed, fun little film which runs somewhat like a mashup of modern Doctor Who, Fukasaku’s Battle Royale and that nightmare where you’re somewhere familiar, running from hundreds of identical masked assailants, and you don’t know why. You know the one.
Our lead character is Tsubasa Sato (Takuya Ishida), a scrappy high school student who’s got a bit of attitude, but is basically a good kid. Pinned down one day by Hiroshi (Shunsuke Daito), a fellow student who’s joined the Yakuza, he closes his eyes and waits for the beatdown… which never arrives. Tsubasa opens his eyes to find himself standing alone in an empty playground, somehow transported to a copy of his own world with just a few differences.
Chief among these is that Japan has a king, and that king has instituted the Death Game, in which every person with the surname Sato is hunted down during daylight hours and executed by Chasers. They’re a bunch of identically-dressed, seemingly unstoppable henchmen who have the grinning visage you can see on the cover art above. The film’s plot unfolds rapidly from here, establishing the rules of Tsubasa’s new universe and the nature of the game he’s been thrust into. Unlike the game in Battle Royale, though, we’re not shown a chirpy intro video at the start: Tsubasa (and the audience) has to figure out the rules as he runs, trying to stay alive. Backstory and (occasionally fairly ropey) continuity is provided by his sister, Ai (Mitsuki Tanimura), who’s in a psychiatric ward in Tsubasa’s original world, but very much out and about in this one.
What’s so engaging about The Chasing World is its dreamlike feel. Director Issei Shibata shunts Tsubasa from one world into the next with an elegant efficiency, building up the universe and its rules with an immediacy that sucks you right into the film. The suburban setting, sparing use of CGI and fairly simple art direction show the film’s small budget (about US$1M), but don’t detract from it at all; indeed, they highlight the oddness of Tsubasa’s predicament and make him easier to relate to. This is no highly-trained dimension-hopping operative; he’s just a kid.
The action scenes — which are really running scenes in this flick — are copious and shot well, with a lot of hand-held camera work and the occasional sly piece of CGI-enhanced stuntwork to keep things interesting. Some of the acting is a little wobbly from the supporting cast, but they’re fairly thinly-drawn characters… I’m looking at you, sassy ratings-obsessed reporter. There are also occasional moments of amped-up TV-style melodrama, which feel a bit out of place given the pace of the rest of the film, but they’re fairly infrequent.
The Chasing World is a fun little horror-fantasy-scifi film which definitely hits more often than it misses. It’s got twists and turns and charm in spades, the occasional moment of creeping horror, and evidently did well enough that Issei Shibata put together a sequel last year. I might just have to track it down.