GORE IN THE STORE
ALICE IN BORDERLAND ****
Starring Kento Yamazaki, Tao Tsuchiya.
Japan, certificate 15.
Streaming on Netflix now.
Lifelong friends Arisu, Karube and Chota while away their days respectively playing video games, tending bar and working in a dead-end job much to their dissatisfaction. However, they soon find themselves in an abandoned Tokyo. After much exploring, they discover they have to participate in a series of sadistic and lethal games designed to test them physically, mentally and emotionally. If they win, they are granted visas to remain in the abandoned city until the next game, if they refuse death arrives in the form of a laser beam shooting down from the sky. Why this is happening and who is responsible is a task the usually aimless Arisu takes upon himself as the games increase in scope and their sadistic nature. As they encounter more players, all of whom are as clueless as Arisu to how or why they have ended up here, wherever here is, it soon becomes apparent that it is not only the games that are life-threatening.
Based on a manga, that has also previously received an animated adaptation, ALICE IN BORDERLAND is an addictive eight-episode series that comes on like a mix of SAW and BATTLE ROYALE. With the commencement of each game, there is, for the viewer, a sense of anticipation as to how a simple game can be twisted and warped to lethal extremes, ramping up more and more with each episode. The games' puzzle-solving nature, including an incredibly stressful game of tag, and Arisu's solutions and task to find the elusive game master, gives proceedings an edge that stops the storyline devolving into senseless, repetitive violence.
With the story's development and introduction of other characters, the similarity of the series' title to Lewis Carroll's classic tale becomes more apparent in subtle and obvious ways. Carroll's trick for playfully subverting characters and situations is on display here. Whether it is characters names, Hatter or Chishiya, or the true nature of bikiniclad Kuina being a complete surprise but evident in retrospect in a Lewis like style. A further example of this comes as a neat surprise in the final episode where something that has been in plain sight is soon revealed as something else entirely, setting the stage for another season.
There is still a great number of mysteries to get through throughout the previous seven episodes. Sustaining this is a well-managed pace that reaches a frenetic crescendo in its final two episodes when the last game is revealed kicking off an exciting series of confrontations that have been neatly set up and executed to a high level. That further revelations for characters are swiftly introduced and satisfyingly resolved, show Shinsuke Sato's skill, a director who has previous form in adapting anime to live-action with the 2016 DEATH NOTE television series and films of BLEACH, INUYASHIKI and I AM A HERO.
Hopefully, he gets to repeat the trick with a second series excitingly set up in the final episode here. His slick direction of the intelligent scripts for this big-budget adaptation delivers one of the most satisfying genre shows on Netflix in some time. Whilst a massive success in its native country seems to be a hidden gem that is more than deserving of a higher profile.