Sunday, July 11, 2010
REVIEW: Insane Mask
狂 い 面 (Kurui Men)
Running time: 55 min.
Reviewed by Chris MaGee
You have to have done something really bad for someone to piss in your mouth. There are very few other punshiments that are worse than a mouth full of urine. That's the kind of torture that the main character of Eiichi Tsukiashi's "Insane Mask" must endure at the hands of four mysterious masked figures, but trust me when I tell you that whatever punishment doled out onscreen pales in comparison to the torture that anyone sitting and watching this self-described "bizarre Japanese cult movie" must put up with for its 55-minute run time.
So here's the basic plot of "Insane Mask" - a faceless interviewer named Mukai brings a line-up of characters into a dimly lit room and with video camera running he asks them one by one to "Please tell me your name age and occupation." In this way we meet Momoyo, who says she's a 29-year-old prostitute while in actual fact he's the campiest drag queen this side of RuPaul, Ninamata, a 42-year-old Buddhist shrine craftsman, Mitsuru, a 28-year-old pseudo-hippy, and Taichi, a seemingly mentally-challenged 40-year-old school boy. It seems that each of these four are guilty of exacting some pretty foul deeds on a young man named Juji Agita. Actually let me rephrase that. Some of them exact some pretty foul deeds on Agita. Momoya only gives Agita a bad haircut while he/ she minces around and Ninamata drips melted candlewax all over Agita's naked torso, treatment some of us would pay good hard-earned money for. Mitsuru on the other hand slops down handfuls of earthworms onto Agita's face and chest which isn't the most pleasant way to spend your time, but it's really Taichi who wins the cruelty prize by playing war games with Agita during which he throws a bucket of shit on him and then pees in his mouth. Oh, and Agita is chained up through all this... Oh, and all his four tormentors wear Japanese festival-style masks when they're not mugging for the camera, which I guess makes the torture artsy and bizarre and "Insane Mask" an instant "cult movie". And that's it.
Well, okay, let's be fair... That isn't the full plot of "Insane Mask". Writer/ director Eiichi Tsukiashi, who used to sing in the Japanese goth-punk band Roidegyarudo before turning to filmmaking, adds a twist to the proceedings that any clever viewer can see from a mile off. For all those who are rabid about spoilers be forewarned... It turns out that Agita suffers from multiple personality disorder and these alter egos are trying to both protect themselves and punish Agita for introducing a fifth personality intho their midst, a ninja assassin named Daigo who's part Darth Vader and part visual kei rock star and is played by Tsukiashi himself. Daigo is going to destroy these multiple personalities using his razor sharp katana and some laughable digital effects.
Now you may ask some basic questions about this whole scenario, things like do we discover the reason why Agita suffers from multiple personality disorder throughout the film? Do we learn why Agita has created this dark ninja assassin-saviour to free him from these destructive alter egos? Who is this faceless Mukai person - a therapist or just another aspect of Agita's splintered psyche? Anyone asking these questions about "Insane Mask" will be disappointed to hear the the answers - no, no and we don't know but maybe a therapist, but maybe not. Of course why bother with such minor plot quibbles when you can rip off imagery from Shuji Terayama like the sulphuric landscape and the white-faced school boy from his 1974 film "Pastoral: To Die in the Country". I mean, if you use some Terayama weirdness and mix it with S&M and throw a ninja in to the miz then VOILA! You have am instant "bizarre cult movie". The only problem is that there is no "cult" audience out there for this mess, although someone at the 2009 New York International Independent Movie Festival awarded "Insane Mask" the Best International Cult Movie (Short Film Category). Maybe the head of the jury was Tsukiashi's mom, or girlfriend or suffered from multiple personality disorder.
You have to understand that I don't normally like to trash a film in a review, but when you come across a film that feels like it was written by a mopey high school goth girl and looks like it was shot alternately in someone's basement and in a dry ravine behind their house there really isn't much good you can say about it. I'm sure that Tsukiashi put a lot of hard work and love into "Insane Mask", but in the end what comes across onscreen is painful, and not because of the torture that Agita must endure. And that all being said let's leave "Insane Mask" well enough alone and carry on with our day...