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DVD Review

DVD cover

252: Sign of Life


Starring: Hideaki Ito, Takayuki Yamada, Yu Kashii and Minji
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: 12
Available 10 January 2011

When a tidal wave strikes Tokyo’s suburbs, a downtown subway floods, killing all but five survivors. Cut off from immediate rescue, the five struggle with both their past and their present predicament in order to find the strength to survive...

252: Sign of Life (2009 - 2 hrs, 13 min, 13 sec) is an epic disaster movie, directed and co-written by Nobuo Mizuta. 252 is the call sign for survivors in Japan and is the rhythm beaten out by the survivors in a desperate attempt to let people know that they are trapped, but alive.

The main action centres on Yuji Shinohara, who is an unhappy and unsuccessful car salesman. Once he was part of an elite rescue squad, until he saved his brother from a fire, the cost of which was the death of his friend, a sin which he carries with him. In order to save his marriage he leaves the fire brigade.

On the fateful day Yuji goes into town to buy his deaf-mute daughter, Shiori, a present for her birthday. When the wave hits, flooding the subway, Yuji finds not only his daughter but also a female Korean hostess, a trainee doctor and a businessman, all of whom carry their own burdens. As the chance of rescue recedes the group are haunted by the things which they have done in life.

Now disaster movies are very popular, if nothing else for the spectacle of seeing well known landmarks destroyed and whilst 252 does have some such scenes these are mostly used for setting the scene. 252 is a much more intimate film, with most of the action taking place in one subway location.

The film was partially based on a true life incident, one which will, no doubt, be unfamiliar to western audiences, so it is a shame that the extras which appeared on the Japanese release do not appear here.

This disc is a vanilla affair with no extras and only the chapter options available. The converted 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen picture is clear, but the Japanese 2.0 track with burnt in subtitles are a disappointment.

The lead role is taken by Hideaki Itô, who does a convincing turn as a man torn between what he wants to do and the need to forgo this to hold his family together. It is not without some irony that it is his former skills as a fire and rescue worker which saves the group. If Yuji is the action heart of the film, then the emotional heart belongs to Ayane Omori as his deaf-mute daughter.

She initially saves herself when the water hits, only to be further rescued by a Korean hostess. When the group is finally assembled, the adults all take turns in melting down, while the plucky little girl just tries to make the best of it. She only gets a single word to say in the film, but I would defy anyone with a heart not to tear up at that point.

It’s not a bad film, though I’m not wholly convinced that it works perfectly as either a disaster film, The Sinking of Japan was better in this respect, or as a well-rounded exploration of self-sacrifice in the face of adversary. The main difficulty is the over emotional reaction which all the male characters display, which probably plays better in Japan, where this is viewed as a mark of sensitivity, unlike their western counterparts who carry through with great stoicism.


Charles Packer

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