Set in a world that looks virtual and part of a video game but also quite real in feature terms, “Last Stage” is a rather interesting short by the Ohara Brothers duo, which won Best Picture award at the Omoigawa Cinema Festival in 2017.
As the film begins, we witness a rather nervous man who seems to have prepared an ambush for someone in the narrow streets of an unknown area. Soon a little girl appears, and with her loud voice threatens to blow his cover. A band of Yakuza appears after that, looking like caricatures with their clothes and ways, and they seem to be the target of the initial man. Then a woman appears who seems to be an old friend, with her presence seeming like a warning from fate not to proceed with his plan. The two of them proceed in a coffee house, where the aforementioned Yakuza are also present, again acting in caricature fashion. A quite loud school girl appears and has a brief but intensely rude interaction with the protagonist’s friend. Then the little girl reappears and his final decision about whether to proceed with his plan or not proves quite the correct one. Just before the ending, however, a rather eccentric twist gives the film a genuine wtf aspect.
“Last Stage” seems like a genre filmmaking exercise taken to extremes, since the directors tried to include a number of elements of the category (thriller, crime, drama, parody, yakuza etc) in the short, in a package though, that eventually became anything but and still managed to work, somehow. The resulting combination is quite good, particularly regarding the thriller parts, since agony really permeates the film. This part benefits the most by Keigo Ogasawara’s performance in the protagonist role, whose chain-smoking persona emits a sense of danger from every pore.
The ending of the main story could be perceived as a message against violence, highlighting the fact that even people who are considered “evil” can have some good aspects in their life.
On another level, the film could be perceived as a virtual reality video game of sorts, with the ending actually pointing towards this notion, with the various characters that appear throughout the story having the role of NPC, although their contribution to the unfolding of the story is rather crucial.
Tetsuro Imai’s cinematography follows the rules of the mainstream with a quality rarely witnessed in shorts, in perfect resonance with the overall aesthetics. The editing by the Ohara Brothers induces the film with an equally suiting sense of speed, which also adds to the entertainment the production offers.
“Last Stage” is an intriguing short that highlights the abilities of the two directors, and a title that I would really like to see as a feature.