The film begins by asking the audience whether they support or oppose the death penalty. We then are shown a poll from the 1940’s about the abolition of the death penalty: 71% opposed the abolition, 16% supported it, and 13% were undecided. The film then asks the 71% if they have ever seen an execution or an execution chamber. We are then taken methodically toward the chamber describing the building enclosing it in detail. When we reach the chamber we are shown it detail and we see a man hung.
Now a doctor comes to check to be sure that the criminal is dead. Despite having been hanged he is still alive. The problem is that he is now basically a blank slate. All the evidence they have says that the person who is still alive isn’t the criminal named R that they hung and yet it’s the same body. What to do now? The rest of the film consists of the people involved in the execution trying to explain to this man who he is, the murders he supposedly committed, and why they need and should hang him again to finish the job.
The movie is a plea against the death penalty using the logic that as long as the state condones murder through war, we are all innocent. An important point considering that most of the executioners had been soldiers during WWII. Some had even been accused of murder or being a war criminal. R himself is Korean and as such brings out the racism in the Japanese executioners.
The film can get surreal and theatrical at times. Enough that I have to say approach this one with caution.