Saturday, December 18, 2010

REVIEW: Living Hell: A Japanese Chainsaw Massacre

生地獄 (Iki-jigoku)

Released: 2000

Shugo Fujii

Hirohito Honda
Yoshiko Shiraishi
Kazuo Yashiro
Naoko Mori

Running time: 104 min.

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

You would think a movie with a secondary title of "A Japanese Chainsaw Massacre" would have a chainsaw in it. You might think that, but you would be wrong. That's not to say, though, that Shugo Fujii's low-budget, shot-in-9-days film doesn't share more than a few things with Tobe Hooper's influential mid-70s horror touchstone. First and foremost is the odd pairing of gore and broad humour that are in an about equal mix, but it also includes the particular eating habits of a slightly askew family. Well OK...A very askew family.

The central character of the film is Yasu, a depressed young man bound to a wheelchair who lives with his father and two older siblings. He's not getting a whole lot of support from his family these days (there's even talk of putting him in a home), but things get even worse when some additional relatives come to stay in the household. Yasu's grandmother and a cousin are suddenly without a home, so they will be staying with them for a month or so. With the grandmother possibly in the early stages of dementia and cousin Yuki (who is the same age as Yasu) completely mute, it looks like he'll be getting even less help and sympathy around the house. Yasu feels that something else is amiss though. He gets several blinding headaches and is positive that he heard Yuki speak out loud, but his brother and sister think he's making it all up. The full extent of Yasu's situation is slowly revealed as the movie moves forward and bit by bit we see that it only gets worse and worse. We know this is coming since we're already privy to details that Yasu isn't.

Grandma and Yuki have already killed the residents of a previous house (the opening scenes of the film) and feasted on their remains, so when they begin torturing Yasu we aren't so much surprised as wondering where things will lead and why they haven't gobbled him up yet. The torture begins with a near death walk outside (Yuki almost walks his wheelchair into oncoming traffic) and moves to tooth extraction and darts. Yasu's screams for help (and does he ever scream a lot in this movie...) and pleas to his family are never answered, but he might get some help from a newspaper reporter digging deep into the story of the first murders. This secondary storyline keeps the movie moving forward at a good pace as do the little bits of information we continue to gather. For such a low budget film (and poor DVD presentation), it still actually manages to build some suspense and provide a few genuine scares. Grandma is the best realized of the characters with her chalky white skin, menacing eyes and ability to vanish from the room. The torture, the family backstory and the reporter's investigation all build to a final "family reunion" that is delightfully over-the-top and yet still unsettling. Another impressive point in favour of the film is that it really feels like there's more gore than there actually is. Credit Fujii and his editor for pulling that off.

It's not without it's problems though...Lead actor Hirohito Honda gets a lot of close-ups and truly becomes annoying with his constant screaming. Granted, it's supposed to be a broad role, but several of his scenes just go on far too long. It's actually an issue with other scenes too - not a huge one mind you, but enough to wonder why the editing was clever and successful in some areas (choosing long takes, cutting to sudden appearances of characters, etc.) and not in many others. In the end, however, the film entertains and provides a few chills along with the craziness that transpires towards the end. You won't even really care that there weren't any chainsaws.

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.

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