Director Eiji Uchida brings us a story of determination, suffering and family in the film Greatful Dead. The Japanese film centers around the peculiar life of a young woman named Nami (Kumi Takiuchi). When we first meet Nami, she is a young child who lives with parents who are too preoccupied to notice her, and an older sister who is equally burnt out from trying to impress their vacant parents. Nami explains that we are forever alone. While she does not reference Orson Welles, young Nami quotes him by saying: “We are born, we live alone, we die alone.” She does not complete the quote, which reads: “Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone”. This is a bit telling of Nami’s life, as Nami’s childhood is a lonely existence of simply wanting to be noticed by those around her.
As the film progresses, we meet an older, healthy and stable looking Nami. Thanks to the sudden death of her father, absent Mother and sister who left home years ago, Nami gains a sizable inheritance, allowing her to have any material possession she could want. Nami quickly learns that these luxuries are not ample substitutes for actual relationships.
Thanks to the freedom her wealth has granted her, Nami takes up a hobby of people watching. She is particularly interested in people who she explains have gone insane as a result of their loneliness. Nami calls these people “Solitarians”. Nami spends most of her days observing her favorite solitarians, making observations about them while keeping an eye out for any potential new solitarians she may come across. Nami never talks to these solitarians directly, though she clearly has no sense of boundaries when observing them. Interestingly, Nami herself has no friends and makes no real attempt to see her sister or niece who live nearby. Whenever she runs into her sister, she becomes instantly withdrawn and sullen.
One day, Nami notices an elderly man (Takashi Sasano) who she instantly thinks is a Solitarian, but there is something exceptionally intriguing about this man. Over the course of one short month, Nami becomes obsessed with her newest Solitarian and goes as far as to tent on rooftops across the street from his home so that she can observe him constantly.
When Nami’s favorite solitarian gains a new visitor and friend in the form of a young woman who volunteers her time to read the Bible with the elderly in an attempt to cure them of a “lonely death”, Nami knows she must take action to return her Solitarian to his pervious ways. Meanwhile, Nami’s sister attempts to help Nami regain some social skills by inviting Nami on vacation with their family. Nami’s sister constantly reminds Nami that a normal way of life is beneficial and rewarding, though Nami knows she cannot live like her sister. She cannot risk telling her sister about her prized Solitarian. As Nami’s quest to keep reinstate her Solitarian back to his old ways evolves, we see how desperate, passionate and fixated a person can become.
With an increasingly palpable sense of desperation, Nami shows us just how far a person will go to maintain control of the things they cherish the most. Nami is desperately determined and frighteningly powerful woman who will use any means necessary to get what she wants.
Dark, violent and brilliantly disturbing, Greatful Dead shows us how loneliness can be an all consuming disease that will make it’s victims find salvation in the most desperate of places. Nami’s experience reminds us of the importance of the Buddhist teachings on suffering—that we cannot look to material things or to a situation for fulfillment, as all material things loose value and all situations eventually change. We must find happiness within ourselves or become engulfed in the endlessness of our sorrows. Greatful Dead is set to release (with English subtitles) in the United Kingdom on January 26th, 2015.