Having recently lost her grandmother, Satoko Sato finds herself deeply withdrawn from the pressures of Covid landing her in the position of a NEET. However, at the age of 32, Satoko feels the pressure to move on, but her limited desires have her seemingly only reaching to be a rich person’s wife. After a failed date, Satoko comes to the conclusion that her ticket to fame is YouTube, and after a successful prank where she plays dead, she finds a modicum of popularity. Yet, her fame is fleeting and her search for something deeper takes her on a surreal journey to find enlightenment.

No country does low-budget absurd comedies quite like Japan; this niche is where Shingo Kanemoto has already staked his claim with a series of crass/dark shorts and feature-length films pushed out in quick succession–exploitation cinema at its most productive. In fact, his feature-length film, Dosuemon, was one of the highlights of last year’s JFFH. Where that one was an over-the-top crude parody work of the beloved anime character Doraemon, I’ve Died A Lot Lately is lighter fare–a slacker comedy chronicling the mediocre rise and decline of a woman named Satoko Sato.

Where the film hits its comedic beats is indulging in the fickle and expressive emotions of its protagonist, played by Sari Tachibana. Tachibana is a true treat here as she fluctuates between childish outbursts and violent self-righteousness–one moment having a whining freak out, the next slapping a man for talking s*** about wanting a woman to breed him his own baseball team. Essentially, absurdity is the key to the comedy set-ups and Sari Tachibana delivers as Satoko Soto.

The comedy starts light, poking fun at lazy content creators looking for quick fame and leading to the eventual downfall and failed apology video. After the failed attempt to win back her stardom, Satoko embarks on a religious journey that puts her on the path of meeting some deviant monks and eventually experiencing a spiritual awakening–conveyed through cheap green screen effects that add to the absurdist humor. Overall, the trip is a pretty wild one and what it lacks in shock value it makes up for in Sari Tachibana’s expressive acting skills and leaning heavily into its budget restrictions to pull out more moments of humor.

However, the low budget also leads to one of the production’s major downfalls. There has been an abundance of Covid-related cinema, and I’ve Died A Lot Lately uses this as part of the plot but also, seemingly, as a way to explain some limitations of filming. Unfortunately, compounding shoestring budgeting with restrictions puts a damper on the overall experience. Even though this is out of the hands of Shingo Kanemoto, the real-life restrictions kill the edge granted to the free expression of cinema from the underground–be a rebel but make sure to wear a mask. This may have inadvertently affected many aspects of the production, as even when Sato travels the world it seems rather lifeless for a journey about exploring one’s own place in life.

Ultimately, I’ve Died A Lot Lately is an entertaining addition to the world of low-budget comedy that made its way out of Japan. It does take a while for the film to hit its stride, and a lot of the success rests on Sari Tachibana’s performance over a strong script. The type of humor won’t be for everyone either, but those who embrace the Japanese underground will certainly find the journey of a deadbeat to be enlightening. 

We Watched I’ve Died A Lot Lately as Part of the 2022 Japan Film Fest Hamburg (JFFH) Line-up


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