Japanese

Audition (1999)

No film poster today as my laptop is playing up 😦

Audition opens with the death of Shigeharu Aoyama’s wife leaving him to care for their only son, Shigehiko. Seven years later and Shigehiko is your typical teenager who suggests (or rather bluntly tells his father) that he should find a new wife. His son’s suggestion gets into Shigeharu’s head and with the help of his friend, Yasuhisa he sets out on the hunt for a new wife. Yasuhisa is a film producer and helps shy Shigeharu put on a series of auditions for a fake film in order to meet women. Out of all the women that apply Shigeharu is drawn to Asami Yamazaki, played by Eihi Shiina (Helldriver).

Things seem to be going well for the pair but Yasuhisa becomes suspicious when he cannot get in contact with any of the referees on Asami’s resume. He confides his feelings to Shigeharu but with no hard evidence they fall on deaf ears with the blossoming romance proceeding at an ever increasing speed.

Audition has a very clear beginning, middle and end structure. It spends a lot of time setting the scene and letting the audience get to know Shigeharu. Ryo Ishibashi (Suicide Club, The Grudge) does a great job portraying the lonely widower Shigeharu and his search for companionship. The first half of the film feels more like a romantic drama than a horror film complete with floating musical score. It is only after they spend a night together and Asami disappears that things get steadily darker.

I have watched Audition a couple of times and I still have to look away at the end. Director Takashi Miike (Ichi The Killer) is unrelentless in the graphic realistic nature of what Asami inflicts on Shigeharu. Although brutal, the violence fits completely in with the plot of the film and doesn’t feel gratuitous. It is a very compelling watch that I would recommend to anyone who can stomach it.

Rating: 5/5

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Battle Royale (2000)

Battle-Royale

Set in an alternate and gritty Japan where in order to quell the uprising of ‘The Youths’ a random class is picked to undergo the titled Battle Royale. The film starts with a horde of reporters swarming round that year’s winner, a small girl in a pink, gore-splattered dress possessing the blood-curdling  and unhinged smile. We then move onto this year’s chosen class (although they don’t know it yet), a middle school class of 42 students and their teacher Kitano, played by Takeshi Kitano (Kikujiro, Brother). After trouble with the class, including being stabbed by one of the more troubled students, we see the students messing about on the coach on a compulsory school trip. However the students never arrive at their destination, rather they are drugged and wake up in an abandoned school with electronic collars on and two new ominously silent ‘exchange pupils’.

When they have all recovered from the effects of the sleeping gas, Kitano accompanied by a squad of soldiers appears to explain what is going on with the aid of an incredibly peppy video the plan of Battle Royale. From the students’ reaction, it doesn’t seem like they have even heard of it before let alone that it was the big deal in order to keep The Youth in order that it was supposed to be. The outcome is that they must battle one another until there is only one left standing using the weapons provided in the packs, which could be anything ranging from machine guns and bow and arrows to poison to a tracking device right through to a pan lid. To make things more complicated, the island is split into zones and every hour a new zone becomes a danger zone which automatically catch any unsuspecting pupils caught in that zone.

After proving that, it is indeed a matter of life and death (to a few unfortunate students) the class disperses around the abandoned island. With a class of so many, Director Kinji Fukasaku (Tora! Tora! Tora, Day of Resurrection), does a good job of showing all the deaths, many of which it would have been easy to overlook. Inevitably though, we end up focussing on two students, Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara, Death Note), a sensitive boy who is coming to terms with his father’s suicide, and Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda, The Cat Returns) the teacher’s pet.

Battle Royale is an extremely imaginative and well thought out film. The range of deaths, from suicide to the hunting mentality to the paranoia between a group of friends is impressive and imaginative and the psychological effect of the task at hand on the teenagers, presenting the many different facets of human reaction is a real joy to watch. It is no surprise that Battle Royale  is one of the highest grossing films in Japan and has influenced so many films and TV shows including Kill Bill and Lost and most notably the hugely popular The Hunger Games in which the parallels are as glaring as some of the outfits.

Rating: 5/5

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Fun Fact: Battle Royale is based on the novel of the same name by Koushun Takami published a year earlier. It has also been adapted into a manga series. If anyone has read either of these, I’d love to heartheir views on them!

Suicide Club (2001)

suicide club

Suicide Club or Suicide Circle as it’s known in Japan (the original Japanese title being Jisatsu Sākuru) starts in the horrific fashion that captures the essence of the film with fifty odd school girls holding hands and jumping in front of a subway train. The scene is filled with a lot of blood but a surprising lack of screaming with the girls singing as they jump and the general public seeming too stunned to react. The film follows detective Kuroda played by Ryo Ishibashi (Audition, The Grudge) along with his colleagues detectives Shibusawa and Murata played by Masatoshi Nagase and Akaji Maro respectively. The three detectives are tasked to solve the schoolgirls mass suicide and it soon becomes clear that this is only the start of a rash of suicides from all walks of life including two nurses.

A grizzly present is found at the site of several suicides in a white sports bag consisting of 10cm strips of skin sewn into a very long strip of the suicide victims suggests that there is more to this than meets the eye. The three detectives are pretty slow and are shown the connection by a hacker known as ‘The Bat’ via a website containing red and white dots corresponding to the suicide victims. From a seemingly simple start the film takes a very odd turn away from suicide towards out and out brutal murder in the guise of Genesis and self-titled Suicide Club. Genesis (Rolly Teranishi) is an amalgamation of David Bowie in Labyrinth and Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange with a penchant for murder and sparkly cat suits.

From the opening credits right until the closing credits, the soundtrack is provided by the pre-teen girl band Dessert hinting at more sinister messages to their upbeat pop songs. The sound track provides and eerie contrast to the casual death taking place on screen. The special effects in the film are naïve due to the low budget (only $250,000)but does not hamper the impact of the scenes in any way, although there is one point where you can see people throwing buckets of fake blood around. Amazingly, Suicide Club takes place over only six days from the 27th May until the 2nd June ending at Desserts final secret concert.

Suicide Club was written and directed by Sion Sono (Love Exposure, Noriko’s Dinner Table) and is a confident and complex film, if a little bewildering at times. It is the type of film that needs more than one viewing to get the most out of and leaves the viewer questioning and discomforted with no real resolution. This film does not fit neatly into any of the usual categories (serial killer, ghosts, creature features etc) rather sits as a commentary for life in the 21st century and people’s relationship with themselves, popular culture and the internet. Suicide club is not the film to watch when in the mood for jumps and scares, rather it niggles at the edge of your mind for hours afterwards.

Fun Fact: There is a manga of the same title written by Usamaru Furuya following a slightly different view point. If any of you have read it, let me know what you think in the comment section below!

Shikoku (1999)

shikoku

Shikoku means ‘four providences’ or ‘four countries’ in Japanese and is where the film is set. Additionally, when the kanji (Japanese character) used is altered, it also means ‘the land of the dead’ and it is this idea that the film focusses on. The film starts with a ceremony similar to a séance in which a young girl is possessed and channels the spirit of a dead boy, indicating what is to occur later in the film. The film then goes on to show a close friendship group between the girl from the previous scene, who we find out is named Sayori and two other children, a girl named Hinako and a boy named Fumiya. But the friendship group is not to last as Hinako and her family move to Tokyo.

The film then moves forward to present day (well 1999) and follows Hinako (Yui Natsukawa) returning to the small rural town in Shikoku where she discovers her childhood friend Sayori had drowned sixteen years ago. Upon bumping into Fumiya (Michitaka Tsutsui), she learns that her friendship with the deceased was not as rosy as she originally thought with much resentment and jealously on the other girls’ part.

The film takes a while to set up the background of the story and the relationships of the characters involved. Along with the three childhood friends, other characters of note are Sayori’s mother and father and Sendo (Makoto Satô), a perpetual pilgrim at the islands 88 temples.

Hinako begins to dream of her deceased schoolmate and notices something strange going on at Sayori’s old house and enlists the help of Fumiya to discover what is going on. They find out that Sayori’s mother, Teruko (Toshie Negishi) has been visiting the temples backwards in a ‘reverse pilgrimage’ every year as part of an attempt to bring her daughter back to life. The pair consult with local paranormal experts who direct them to the creepy old man (C.O.M), Sendo, who realises what Teruko is trying to do. Hinako and Fumiya are too slow to catch the deranged Teruko and following a ceremony at the local ‘no-go’ creepy cave/pond region, complete with an ominous stone obelisk which culminates with Sayori emerging algae covered from a primordial soup.

With the barrier between the land of the dead and the land of the living breached other spirits begin to cross over and the film culminates in a dramatic scene at the gateway to the land of the dead in which the C.O.M along with Hinako and Fumiya try to seal the barrier again.

Sinkoku is a very restrained film, which at the beginning I was worried was not going to get anywhere, but after a slow start I was sucked into. The religious beliefs behind the plot are interesting and the facts needed by the viewer are skilfully and subtly shown to the viewer, rather than spoon fed as in many big Hollywood blockbusters. I would very much recommend this film to anyone looking for a sensitive, clever film but it is not for those looking for a fast paced, shock filled film.