Director – Hayato Kano, Screenplay – Ami Inagawa, Based on the Novel by Junpei Arai, Producer – Tadashi Iwabushi, Photography – Makoto Miki. Production Company – AMG Entertainment.
Kasumi Yamaya (Sana Haitani), Taro Suruga (Takimoto), Miku Yoshida (Erina Kanehara), Meiku Harakawa (Rui Kurebayash), Moe Sasaki (Suzuka Aoi), Airi Shimizu (Ayame Shibagaki), Sayako Mizuki (Sari Haitani), Hiko Achiha (Yukino Shiraishi), Arisa Sonohara (Rin Toen), Ao (Moemi Koyama), Natsuki Yuasa (Rai Mitsu), Runa Nishioka (Yu Tanabe), Midoka Sawai (Takako Mukai)
Twenty schoolgirls on their way back from taking place in a singing competition come around on the beach of an island. An announcer tells them they are now part of the Cinderella Game where they are to compete for the role of a singing idol with a recording contract and fame as the prize. They are required to search the island to collect various cards that have been hidden about. At the end of the day, they are to come together and play the cards they have gathered against one another in an elimination competition. Each of the cards – The Prince, The Witch, The Wicked Stepmother – can trump or be trumped by one of the others. The loser of the competition, or anybody who breaks the rules or employs violence, will be killed by the collars they wear that can inject poison into their bodies.
Cinderella Game is a Japanese film. The set-up – a group of schoolgirls abducted and placed on an island where they are pitted against each other in a game where the loser is killed – is very much a copy of the basics of Battle Royale (2000). Of course in the sixteen years since Battle Royale had come out, the same premise was also appropriated as the basis of The Hunger Games (2012). (See my detailed essay on such films here at Films About Human Bloodsports and Death Games).
The other bizarre addition is that this also Battle Royale by way of an American Idol (2002- )-like talent competition – the prize the girls are competing for is the position of an idoru and all that comes with it. Even then, the competition is oddly not based on any talent search but the group finding a series of cards that have been left around the island. The card game itself is a variant on Rock Paper Scissors (with a couple of specialty cards) where the player with no cards left to play is killed.
The set-up is not uninteresting, although this is clearly Battle Royale made with a much smaller budget. This is evident when it comes to the scene where the girls are introduced to the game where we see one of them trying to make a run only to have her collar triggered and release a toxin. If this had been Battle Royale, we would have seen her head blown off amid copious splatter. By contrast, all we get is the far less dramatic effect of the girl infected with an unseen poison and spitting out a small mouthful of blood before collapsing dead.
The film doesn’t do a particularly good job of making the premise work. There is occasional tension generated in the card games but when most of this consists of two girls at either end of a long table placing a card on the table and turning it over, there is not much room for it.
The best of these challenges is the one where the trans girl (Arisa Sonohara) who has developed an attraction to Kasumi Yamaya turns their confrontation into a series of psychological games, offering to tell what card they are going to play and the film hangs on whether to trust them. You wish the film had found more of these scenes.
This was the third film for director Hayato Kano who had previously made Hikarie Movie (2013) and The Boy with Dead Eyes (2015), neither being well seen.