Friday, May 16, 2008

REVIEW: Karaoke Terror - Tetsuo Shinohara (2003)

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

The concept of the May-December romance is one that just won’t go away. The fact that a man in his early 20’s and a woman in her late 30’s are both said to be in their sexual prime has added to the allure, but while these relationships have been glorified in literature and cinema all the way from Goethe’s “The Sorrows of a Young Werther” up to today’s “MILF” phenomena they are still more the exception than the rule. For the most part both camps lack the courage, or in the case of the older women possess the wisdom, and avoid this potentially delicious, but dangerous situation. That’s the case with a group of young men and a group of older women in Tetsuo Shinohara’s 2003 film adaptation of the 1994 Ryū Murakami novel “Karaoke Terror: The Complete Japanese Showa Songbook”; that is until a random murder locks them in a war of vigilante come-uppance that grows more and more intimate as the bodies start to drop.

The story is told from the point of view of Ishihara (Ryuhei Matsuda) an aimless 20-something guy who falls in with a group of other aimless 20-something guys whose time is spent nursing their erections while checking out the “miracle” of a woman who dances nude in the apartment across from theirs and having bi-monthly parties where they choreograph elaborate karaoke performances. The group is led by Sugioka (Masanobu Ando) a paranoid and psychotic young man who regularly packs a hunting knife under his shirt. Even though we know he’s unbalanced from the first minute of the film it still comes as a shock when after unsuccessfully propositioning a woman he meets on the bus his knife gets pulled and the woman ends up dead. It’s this senseless act of violence that introduces us to other camp in this battle of the sexes: The Midoris.

Originally assembled by journalist for a magazine article written about successful divorcees in today’s Japan these six women, all named Midori, have since become friends of a sort, gathering for tea and snacks at each other’s homes and like the group of young slackers also obsessed with karaoke; but with their friend murdered whatever joy they got crooning the hits is gone. What can they do to heal this hurt? With some detective work The Midoris track down Sugioka and their bloody revenge leads to counter-revenge. Eventually things spiral out of control with a rising arms race and a growing feeling among the two groups that this all out war is bringing their respective memberships closer together.

Initially David Fincher’s “Fight Club” popped into my head as I watched the increasing mayhem in “Karaoke Terror”, but I realized pretty quickly that this was a superficial comparison. While that film explored the liberating effect of violence on disenfranchised men Shinohara’s film takes a look at these groups of young men and older women move away from the masturbatory world of karaoke and in a face to face confrontation with what they fear, hate, and desire the most: each other.

Those looking for a campy, ultra-violent movie won’t get much out of “Karaoke Terror”, but those who are open to a pitch black comedy with something truly interesting to say about the gender and generation gap in modern society will, like me, come away from the film being thoroughly impressed.

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