Kakegurui is dripping with personality, its ‘gambling meets private school’ premise an instant conversation piece. Actress Minami Hamabe shines as calculated, seemingly reckless gambler, Yumeko Jabami. While Murasame’s [Hio Miyazawa] struggle to never gamble again, shows the low points of moralistic Solipsism when faced with external stimuli. When you take the higher ground all the time, there’s nowhere to go but down…
This impressions review contains spoilers to the live-action film adaption of Kakegurui. The film screened at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival.
Kakegurui leaps into its high stakes rollercoaster immediately from curtain open, no waiting around for long winded narratives, the way a good bet should be. Instant gratification. The film introduces a private high school where students either gamble away their lives with a misplaced wager or prosper off the misery of others by reigning victorious. In Kakegurui’s ultra capitalistic hierarchal system, for someone to enjoy immense wealth and a great life, someone else must sit at their heel.
Students that gamble and lose, sit in debt, while being humiliated by their classmates as servile “Doggies” & “Kitties” (as they’re called in the film). They find themselves working under the boot of their richer & higher status superiors, while being mocked for it. A subtle allegory to current society perhaps, and a cruel twist of fate. Or Lady Luck, depending on how you look at it.
There is no ‘fairness’ in Kakegurui, in fact, one character named Itsuki Sumeragi [Ruka Matsuda] pays her peers to let her win and buys student electoral votes. Sumeragi even has a pricey humanoid robot as her partner, showing that those who came with means to the school have a clear advantage. Circumstances do not reset to zero upon admission and this has a linear impact on the student’s success in Kakegurui. Even the odds can be shaped in one’s favor through various means of manipulation, either through currency or deceit.
The system is mostly unfettered and runs unrestricted outside of the whims of Student Council President Kirari Momobami [Elaiza Ikeda]. Who did a great job of portraying the school’s sophisticated, untouchable queen bee, reminiscent of Erina Nakiri on anime series Food Wars!
Those that abstain from gambling in life, end up doing so indirectly
For every standard bearing culture and pecking order, there’s a counter culture brewing by those disfranchised by their position in the hierarchy. Enter ‘The Village’ a group of students led by Jueri Arukibi [Haruka Fukuhara], a cult-like group dressed all in white who’ve declared abstinence from gambling. Arukibi attempts to recruit the best gambler on campus (outside of the Student Council’s President), Yumeko Jabami to their cause, an important point later in the film. Arukiba promises to rescue those who’ve fallen prey to their gambling debts, shielding them through sheer number against their ‘debtors’ inside ‘The Village’. Wearing all white Arukiba appears to be morally righteous at first.
The Village’s true leader however is Amane Murasame, who secretly once defeated the Student Council President Kirari Momobami and left gambling behind. Murasame’s driving force was his sister’s debts, which he wiped clean with a victory against Kirari but it was not enough to save his sister from her own shame. She jumps off a staircase with Murasame desperately trying to grab her, falling himself. Murasume receives a permanent scar from the event.
Yumeko Jabami goes into a confessional-like area to prod Murasame to return to gambling during a visit to The Village but he stays silent. The wildly unpredictable Yumeko Jabami comments earnestly that all she wants is some good desserts in the school cafeteria. That it is ‘such a shame a fine school would have such mediocre desserts’, one of the only times in the film Murasame smiles.
The Student Council decrees new elections through a combination of votes and gambling duels to those seeking power. While at the same time, threatening to throw a wrecking ball at The Village. Forced eviction. Thus, The Village has two choices, go down as pacifists, or gamble to change the culture and direction of their school by gaining power themselves. In Murasame’s words, he would just become another kind of monster should he gain power.
Eventually however, he comes to Arukiba’s ‘rescue’ fearing The Village will be destroyed without his intervention. Only to be betrayed in one of the film’s biggest twists. Arukiba, who loses to a game of Blackjack to Kirari (21) at the onset of Kakegurui, was intentionally throwing their paired game against Yumeko Jabami and her plucky, always worried sidekick Ryota Suzui [Mahiro Takasugi]. Arukiba believed humiliating Murasame in front of Kirari would win her favor… But Jabami accurately saw the move as cheating the thrill of gambling, deciding to play to lose herself to nullify it. Murasame takes the ultimate victory and with the blank life slate/book, writes Yumeko Jabami’s wish for better desserts as his only wish.
Minami Hamabe as Yumeko Jabami is a definitive highlight
Actress Minami Hamabe is exceptionally charming as Yumeko Jabami, frankly taking the spotlight of every scene she’s in. It’s of no surprise there’s already a 2021 sequel in the works for Kakegurui because Minami Hamabe can carry this live-action adaption of the franchise to new heights. Excellent facial expressions, a lot of likeability factor you can’t teach in acting class. Minami’s high point comes with a monologue to Murasume about no one ever actually wanting to be ‘saved.’ That there would be no fun in having someone else have that level of control in your life.
Yuma Yamoto as Jun Kiwatari was also a standout in the film, doing a lot of physical acting, noticeably advanced body language work when he’s on-screen. He added a lot of humor to Kakegurui.
Keep in mind… Kakegurui is quite faithful to an anime structure on-screen, meaning there are some exaggerated mannerisms by some characters. Depending on if you’re a fan of Anime, you’ll either see it as entertaining or overacting.
Kakegurui’s appeal is in its Japanese presentation and flashy style. From the clothes, sets, art style to even actress Yurika Nakamura (Sayaka Igarashi) saying “Open” a certain way at every card set.
If you’re looking for a fresh premise with a twist, are a gambling aficionado, and constantly in-motion, high stakes entertainment. Kakegurui is a sure bet. A cult classic in the making.
– Follow the film @kakegurui_jp on Twitter and visit the official website, kakegurui.jp to learn more about the film. The film is directed by Tsutomu Hanabusa and distributed worldwide by GAGA Corporation.
Be sure to read Fantasia Fest 2020: Tezuka’s Barbara is a stylish, decadent elixir of dystopian cool (Review) and more coverage of Fantasia Fest at The Natural Aristocrat®’s Fantasia International Film Festival 2020 section.