This flick is based on Nobuyuki Fukumoto's manga series, Tobaku Mokushiroku Kaiji, and stars the uber slick prince of Japanese cinema Tatsuya Fujiwara in the lead role of Ito Kaiji, a down on his luck loser with an unhealthy drink and gambling problem fuelled by his lower class status; the complete polar opposite to the character he played in Death Note, Light Yagami. Kaiji is given the chance to pay off his huge financial debt in one night when he receives an invitation to board a gambling boat from an unscrupulous debt collector named Endo; or, face the daunting prospect of repaying the hefty sum over a ten year period.
Kaiji's decision will eventually guide him towards another unfortunate slacker named Sahara Makoto, played superbly by Kenichi Matsuyama; again, a million miles away from his creepy, enigmatic portrayal as L in the Death Note series and not so easily recognizable without all the make-up. Instead of a battle of wits between these two talented thespians, this time around they must pull together and form an alliance to successfully cross Brave Men Road; escape the slave driven underworld; clear their individual debts; and, be set free back into normal society.
Just like each individual Manga Publication leaves the hooked reader eagerly anticipating the release date of the forthcoming issue to continue the fable and satisfy their curiosity, each scene plays out in a similar fashion feeling like a condensed version of the original mini-stories, constantly changing direction and making the viewing experience an enthralling ride packed with suspense, tension and occasional laughter. Tatsuya Fujiwara carries the whole film with arguably his best performance to date and gets supported well throughout; especially, in the grand finale showdown with the tyrannical Tonegawa played by Teruyuki Kagawa (20th Century Boys).
Highly recommended for fans who enjoy Japanese Manga stories; Tatsuya Fujiwara; and/or, intense gambling scenes like the one between Daniel Craig and Mads Mikkelson in Bond's Casino Royale; but on a totally different level - of course. This isn't the super spy versus the dastardly villain, it's the emperor versus the slave. Put it in the basket, it's odds on to be a winner.