Review

by Theron Martin, Oct 30th 2006

Last Quarter (live-action)

Description:
Last Quarter DVD
19-year-old Mizuki has many problems that weigh on her. Musician boyfriend Tomoki has apparently slept with her best friend and her father has remarried to a woman he was seeing on the side before her mother committed suicide a few years earlier. Though her stepmother tries to be nice and loving, she feels out of place with her stepmother and younger half-sister around, and thus painfully alone. Drawn to an old mansion, she meets Adam, a mysterious man who plays a song on a guitar that she has been trying for years to master on the piano, and stays with him for a time. Though she finds her memories becoming muddled, his company reassures and comforts Mizuki, so when he leaves to go on a journey – to London, she thinks – she hurries to join him. But tragedy strikes, one that links her to the also-injured schoolgirl Hotaru.

And that's where the story really begins, though its anchors lie 20 years in the past.
Review:
Last Quarter is a Goth-flavored live-action supernatural drama which may be of interest to otaku for three reasons:

1. It co-stars Chiaki Kuriyama, the chain-wielding schoolgirl thug from Kill Bill;
2. It also stars Hyde, the lead vocalist for fan-fave Japanese rock band L'Arc~en~Ciel; and
3. It is based on the manga of the same name by acclaimed manga-ka Ai Yazawa, who is best-known outside of Japan creating NANA and Paradise Kiss.

Unfortunately said manga is not available in the U.S. for comparison's sake, though its description suggests that the movie only generally follows the manga; Hotaru, for instance, appears to be a high school student in this movie but is described as an elementary school girl in the manga.

The first impression Last Quarter gives is that it's the Japanese equivalent of an American B-movie (aka “straight-to-video”), and indeed this impression holds until the pivotal accident scene about a quarter of the way through. There are confusing flashes of memories that don't mesh well, timing issues don't seem to make sense, the opening scenes are incomprehensible with their lack of context, and overall the production lacks sophistication. Bear with this confusing early content, though, because most of those elements will ultimately make sense. The movie steadily gets better once Hotaru and her male classmate come into the picture and start investigating things, which gradually leads them to discover the full picture of enduring and tragic love which involves the mysterious Adam and the ghostly woman they call Eve. How exactly Mizuki, who is the star for the first third of the movie but becomes a secondary character after that, fits into the picture cannot be commented on without revealing major spoilers, but the revelations won't disappoint.

The acting is a mixed bag. While most of the key actors turn in good enough performances to effectively carry the weight of the drama, there's definitely room for improvement. Kuriyama generally does well as Mizuki, a role utterly different from the one she undertook in Kill Bill, and Notoki Ochiai and Hiroki Narimiya are both solid as Tomoki and Hotaru, respectively. Hyde is a disappointment as Adam, however, primarily because his range of emotion is either absent or not credible, depending on the scene. The role does give him opportunities to sing and play the guitar, and that's what he should stick to; here he comes off as an almost foppish character, a subdued version of the kind one might see in a bad live-action sentai production. The rest of the cast is at least competent.

The art direction is nothing complicated or sophisticated, although it does use off-color filters to give an “old” look to scenes from two decades in the past. (This is important to keep in mind when watching the early scenes.) Its emphasis on classic Western architecture helps lend a vaguely Gothic feel to the production, as does the costuming used for Mizuki at certain points. The special effects are about on the level of the recent Doctor Who or most Sci-Fi Network productions that don't have “Battlestar” in the title; in other words, far below Hollywood standards. This is not a big-budget production and it shows. Much better is the low-key musical score, which features a partial song by Hyde and carefully avoids melodrama. It is critical to setting the tone of the last quarter of the movie and one of the major contributors to the movie's total value.

Geneon is responsible for bringing this PG-13-rated title to the U.S. market. They have opted not to dub it, instead providing it only in subtitled form. Nice cover art gives a good sense of the film's overall tone and content but the Extras are sparse, consisting only of a Japanese trailer for the movie and company anime trailers.

Though it doesn't get off to a great start and could use a bit more refinement, Last Quarter is ultimately a well-paced, involving, and moderately compelling supernatural love story which takes a low-key, melancholy approach. It's a story whose structure and execution transcends cultural setting, so I could see it being adapted by an American company at some point.
Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Art : C+
Music : B+

+ Good story in long run, strong musical score.
Unimpressive acting by Hyde, chintzy special effects.

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