The word “crazy” is usually never used as a positive, unless it’s referring to maybe a work of art, an unbelievable performance onscreen, onstage, or, ahem, in the bedroom, but we can all pretty much agree that it has a negative connotation overall, right?
Yet it seems that the more horror movies come out, the more they can be classified as buttshit remakes of classic 80’s horror films, avant-garde snorefests that pass themselves off as a horror spectacle, or blockbusters designed to do nothing more than scare the money right out of your wallets and purses. And as a result, the word “crazy” can’t really be used to describe a horror movie anymore. But thankfully, this is almost never, EVER the case when it comes to Japanese horror films.
And no, I’m not talking about the ultra-B horror films from Japan that are a cross between something you can film with your iphone and something a student would submit as a mid-term project for a special effects class. And I’m definitely not even going to use the word “crazy” in reference to all the torture films from Japan, like “Grotesque” or the infamous “Guinea Pig” series. Those need another word entirely to accurately convey the brutality and almost too fucked up to watch acts of violence and gore they deliver. No, I think the word “crazy” has its own special category of Japanese horror films that if you watch them, the very first thing you’ll think to yourself when their credits roll is, “What the fuck did I just watch? That shit was craaazy!”
I know, because for every movie on my top ten Japanese horror movies that are crazy listed below, I said those exact words at least once, and usually the second I got done watching them.
And here’s the thing, J-Horror has been part of the world’s consciousness for awhile now. I would venture to say that movies like Ringu and Ju-On and their American remakes catapaulted at least one brand of J-Horror, the long, black haired, white funeral shroud, no footed Yurei out for revenge type, into everyday American households and stores. That kind of opened the floodgates for Hollywood to either remake J-horror films or other Asian horror films as quickly as possible, in order to capitalize on the success of the remakes of films like Ringu and Ju-On. I mean, I remember walking into Wal-Mart, of all places, and seeing Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s PULSE in the dvd section, and also one day seeing tons of translated Asian horror films beginning to pop up on the shelves at Hollywood Video. It was kind of a Golden Era of J-Horror, if you will, circa 1997 to 2012, give or take.
It was during this Golden Era that I not only began watching every single J-horror film I could rent or buy, but I started to see how much MORE there was to J-horror than what made it over here to America. I have websites like Mandi Snowblood Apple and Asian-Horror-Movies.com To thank for that. In fact, I had a ritual that I faithfully followed for a year straight when it came to my discovery process for J-Horror films, and mind you, this might not have been the best ritual for me to do given WHERE I was doing it at. Curious? Read on.
So I moved to Chicago back in 2009 and my first and only job there (I only stayed in Chicago for exactly a year) was working at a three story, mental health complex. It was actually full of apartments that housed both young girls and young men who had issues that ranged mostly from anorexia to bulimia, but also suicide, drug abuse, and even psychotic disorders. It wasn’t such a bad job, as I learned an enormous amount from the people I worked with, in particular my supervisor who taught me stuff that to this day I have never forgotten, but at the same time, it was extremely scary for me. I often pulled the night shift, working from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. I also did double shifts on the weekends, working from 3 p. m. on Saturday to 7 a. m. the next day. Something always felt off about the 16 hour shifts, or hell, some of the regular night shifts I did as well. For example, most nights, I could hear murmuring inside the air vents that ran throughout the building. I mostly kept to the first floor office and living room area during my all nighters, but I would do routine checks on every floor to make sure everyone was okay, and every time, I swear you could hear the walls talking. I’m sure it was just the residents (which on any given shift, numbered between 6 to 15 residents living there) talking in their apartments, but that sort of thing can fuck with you when you hear it at 3 a. m., when all the residents should be sleeping because of their heavy medication dosages that had as side effects the kind of drowsiness that you could fall asleep from and miss out on a nuclear explosion in Chicago. Yet those voices were there, almost every night.
Another thing that was creepy was when a patient was on suicide watch and had to come down to the living room area and I had to keep an eye on them from the office, which was adjacent to the living room. So many times, a patient who was confined to sleeping on the couch in the living room area would wake up with severe night terrors. This was especially freaky when these patients had cut themselves up earlier in the day (cutting was a frequent occurrence for many of the girls there. That was never fun cleaning the bloody arms of these poor girls who thought that was a good solution to dealing with their psychological problems). I can remember seeing these girls wake up, screaming and with their noses running, their hair a tangled mess, and their arms up in the air, protesting as though somebody was trying to grab them from the air above the couch, and there it was: All the cuts opening up and turning red because the girls had scratched the band-aids and gauze wraps right off their wounds.
I am a night owl, always have been, and in fact right now it’s four in the morning as I write this. And falling asleep was never a problem for me working at this residential building full of girls who cut themselves and have night terrors, for what I’m sure you realize by now are obvious reasons. But the one thing that truly kept me awake all those nights was something else entirely. It was this “crazy” thirst I had for downloading and lining up one Japanese horror film after another on the office computer for me to watch as each night progressed into the next morning. I had to download them, you see, because at exactly 12 midnight, the internet got cut off in the building. It wasn’t like that when I first started doing shifts overnight there, but on one lovely evening that I worked, a girl nearly killed herself because she was in some chat room online at two-something in the morning and was encouraged by some assholes in that room to leave this world because she was too fat and too ugly for anyone to possibly ever love her. She was about 80 pounds soaking wet, tall, thin, not a single facial blemish. She easily could be a model, even if she did gain a healthier weight, but reading these words of encouragement by these fuckstains in the chat room was enough to make her come down to the living room screaming hysterically and almost needing hospitalized too. So yeah, that ended the internet for everyone, which meant that after this incident, as soon as I got to work for my night shifts or double shifts, I would start downloading movies online to watch all night that were full of things that I can only call “crazy.” How fitting, I suppose, given where I was working, but it was also inspiring to me as well. I was writing my first novel, KAI, at the time, which is….you guessed it…. A Japanese horror story.
Funny how the world works like that, eh?
So this list isn’t something I just threw together to score points with Google, or even to wax nostalgic about nights like the ones I spent as a counselor in Chicago watching Japanese horror films. This list seriously contains some of the craziest Japanese horror films I’ve ever seen, and they are definitely the top ten films of Japanese horror that I probably love more than any others. And it’s because of this reason you aren’t going to find classics like the 1960 Japanese horror film, Jigoku, or even Ringu or any of the Ju-on titles. Don’t get me wrong… I have watched and enjoyed films like these over and over again, probably more than the average Japanese horror film lover. But for me, it takes a certain kind of demented mindset to create the kind of story found in what I considered to be a crazy Japanese horror movie. So yeah, no torture films, black and white throwbacks, or Yurei tales, all of which have their own special place in my heart, of course, but to me, play second fiddle to stories that deal with things like the perfect psychological revenge, a simple fight between roommates that turns into a bloody free for all, and a game that asks how much would you challenge another person to do for a gigantic sum of money? These kind of things are what haunt my mind after years of seeing them. And perhaps they will haunt your mind as well.
10. Ichi the Killer
So no list of Crazy Japanese movies would be a list of crazy Japanese movies without Ichi the Killer being on it. I should preface what I’m about to write with the fact that I am not the biggest fan of this movie, nor is it my favorite Takashi Miike film. I think Takashi has done way better, and way worse, than Ichi the Killer, in his long and storied career making batshit insane films. I could probably fill this entire list up with movies by Miike that are certified loony, but as it so happens, I only felt like two of his films make the final cut (uh, no pun intended). Ichi is one of them.
To think that Ichi is already a decade old and then some is probably one of the craziest things about the movie to me now. But I remember first watching it way back when it came out, in 2001 or around that time, and thinking that it would’ve made a great manga, perhaps even more than a great film. And wouldn’t you know it? I found out later that it was based on a manga, by famed artist Hideo Yamamoto. The entire story, plot (if you can find the plot, that is), and the almost caricature-driven portrayals of every single person in this movie, are just more suited for something you would see in 2D. I think that is why when I watch Ichi that I feel a sense of disorientation, like I am good with the movie for about thirty minutes, then I kind of can’t follow it as much as I would like to, or maybe I’m just blocked from following what’s happening because the plot sort of just disappears into the violence and gore that piles up until the very last scene of the film.
BUT, that all sounds too negative of me, and I do have a very valid reason or two for including Ichi on my list.
I think above all, any movie that can combine horror with elements of Yakuza films deserves a badge of honor. And Ichi doesn’t disappoint here. There is so much Yakuza madness going on that you suspect you’ve been transported right in the middle of Shinjuku’s seedy underworld. Not to mention, you have a Yakuza boss and his favorite hitman (or is he?) who are into some pretty brutal S&M, Yakuza double crosses that lead to power struggles, and of course, Ichi, who is recruited, or rather, hypnotized, by a Yakuza to help him take on a rival Yakuza faction, all while trying to figure out who is killing who.
Does this sound all kind of a bit too much? The plot is convoluted in only the way the great Yakuza films can be, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means you will probably get rewarded with repeat viewings. I say probably because Ichi sort of makes it hard to rewatch the movie over and over again, at least for me. He has incredible powers when it comes to killing people, and he is set upon a goal to kill all bullies in order to right a past wrong he thinks had happened. And this, my friends, is where the movie kind of becomes a study in insanity, literally, as you see Ichi lose his mind and lose control over and over again, and always with horrific consequences. I always think of Baby Metal’s song, IJIME, DAME, ZETTAI, whenever I watch Ichi nowadays. It’s too bad Baby Metal wasn’t around back when this film was made. I can pretty much guarantee their song about bullying would’ve been somewhere in Ichi’s soundtrack, for sure. However, that random thought aside, Ichi is one of those films that if you are just getting into J-Horror, there is enough gore, violence, comedy, and what the fuck did I just watch moments to welcome you to the world of J-horror with a gigantic skull crushing blow to your head. And if that’s your idea of a hello, then go watch Ichi the Killer immediately. And consider your skull crushed when you do.
9. Battle Royale
Here’s another super popular movie that could be considered J-Horror, definitely crazy, like certifiably so. I would even go so far as to say that Battle Royale might be the MOST famous on this list, simply because Chiaki Kuriyama is in it, and most people might know her as Go-Go Yubari in KILL BILL, Part I. Japanese audiences might relate not to her so much as to Ko Shibasaki, who has a huge resume full of singing, acting in Japanese doramas, commercial and movies appearances. She’s also a guest on a lot of Japan’s variety shows. I remember the last time I was in Japan and turned on the television at my apartment I was renting, I couldn’t go a day without seeing her on something. Not that I’m complaining about this, mind you. Ko is lovely.
However, in Battle Royale, she’s Mitsuko Souma, a girl that seems sweet and innocent at first, and then before you know it, she’s killing her classmates and having fun doing it. I used to love her character so much that she became kind of a mythological presence in my life and the lives of some of my friends who enjoyed Battle Royale as well. One dude in particular wanted to start up a death metal band named MITSUKO. Ko definitely left an impression on me, perhaps more so than anyone else in Battle Royale.
Oh, and how could I forget that Takeshi Kitano plays the resident bad guy in the movie? This is the dude from Outrage, in case the name isn’t familiar. He’s one bad mother-effer, and this might be one of his greatest roles for the simple fact that he starts out as a school teacher who also takes to the killing, supervising the slaughter from a makeshift control room of sorts, and even killing a few students himself. I suppose seeing Takeshi kill kids isn’t as shocking as that might sound, being that Takeshi is somebody who is known for playing characters that are either surrounded by death or causing misery and death everywhere he goes. I mean, I’ll never look at going to the dentist the same again, thanks to Takeshi.
Sorry to digress there. Getting back to the movie itself, well, it’s based on the 1996 novel (This is when it was actually completed. It wasn’t actually published until a few years later) by Koushun Takami. It was put out also as a manga series, also done by Takami, and then made into the film we’re discussing on this list. There’s even a movie sequel, but I have to be honest, it plain out sucks. There’s one part that is exactly like Saving Private Ryan’s storming the Omaha beach sequence, only with teenagers. I know that might sound awesome, but trust me, awesome it ain’t.
Anyway, Battle Royale has been out long enough that giving you a plot synopsis seems futile. If you are reading this list, there’s probably a good chance you’ve seen Battle Royale already. Or you are at least aware of its existence. Even if you’re not, the main thing to say about Battle Royale is that the idea of kids killing other kids is why I think the movie is just flat out crazy. The premise is something that we’ve actually see play out horribly in real life, mostly in America. I think it’s supremely ironic that Battle Royale puts so many guns in the hands of Japanese teens and put these teens in a situation where it’s kill or be killed, yet when was the last time you ever heard of a Japanese kid going into a school and shooting all of his class mates? I could diverge right now into a debate about gun control laws, especially Japan’s law which basically states you can’t own a gun unless you are military or the police (I’m generalizing here, but it’s much more complicated than this), but I think it would be better to suggest looking at Battle Royale as more than just teenage on teenage murdering. Seriously, what WOULD you do if you were 15 years old, in Class 3B, and shipped to the island and told to either kill everyone or at the end of the three days, your head will explode via the exploding death collar fastened around your neck? If it were me, I wouldn’t waste on time. I would get on with the killing. But would you?
This is the kind of movie that has some educational value, because it taps into the moral dilemma of good people being put in bad situations and being forced to do the “right thing” to survive, even if it means killing people to do so. Kind of like the argument that if your wife was sick and the pharmacy had the exact drug she needed to be cured of her sickness but you couldn’t afford it, would you steal that drug to save your wife? Now take this scenario and amplify it a million times, and that’s Battle Royale.
Oh, and something else that could also be a pretty ample description of Battle Royale: Arterial blood spurting.
Audition, or if you prefer, Odishon, is one of those films that anyone who has ever watched a single Japanese horror film knows, is a must see when it comes to J-horror as a genre. And chances are, you probably DID see this movie, or rather, the last 20 minutes of it. Chances are, you probably slept through the first hour and a half as well.
It’s pretty incredible, then, when you think about it, that in the last 20 minutes of this film, there are things shown that are so crazy and disturbing that you will probably never forget those images for the rest of your life. Let’s see, what are they….Beautiful Japanese girl throwing up in a dog bowl to feed her footless man slave? Check. Abusive step-father who has a thing for using hot pokers to burn the legs of his ballerina loving step-daughter? Check. Gleeful dismemberment? Check. Psychotic acupuncture done not to relieve pain but to cause it? KIRI-CHECK! I mean, these are only some of the things that wait for you, should you be brave enough to endure Takashi Miike’s now very famous movie that was based on a relatively unknown novel of the same name by Ryu Murakami. Or fuck, I suppose you could just fast forward to the ending where all this crazy shit happens. But anyways, I have two distinct memories about this movie that I’d like to share.
I remember the very first time I saw Audition. It was in Philadelphia, after spending six hours in a car driving from Pittsburgh with a girlfriend, to visit her sister and sister’s boyfriend. They lived in a rather large, open, upscale apartment high up in an apartment tower. I dunno why, but we all had gone out to find some movies to rent, and when I saw Audition, I grabbed it. I had heard some rumblings online and from friends that there was a movie out there with an ending so shocking you might not be able to watch it. And indeed, when Audition premiered, it had quite a few walkouts by those in attendance.
Sounded like a Pepsi challenge to me. Plus it had Eihi Shiina, a fashion model? Yeah, I was sold.
Of course, my girlfriend and her sister and sister’s boyfriend had no interest in seeing the movie, which was fine with me. She was the boring, non-adventurous type of American girl who just didn’t “get” Japanese culture. That’s probably why we didn’t stay together. But anyways, I stayed up and watched it out on their mammoth sectioned couch, while my girlfriend slept in a guest room, and basically I had this cavernous apartment all to myself.
Then it started raining. I found this too perfect to be true, but as I watched the movie, I found myself getting rather sleepy. It seemed to drag, and I kept wondering where all the horror was in the film. With the exception of whenever Asami (played by Eihi) was onscreen, I felt like I was watching a J-dorama. Nothing wrong with that, however, but I started to think I had grabbed the wrong movie. Damn!
But soon enough, Aoyama (played by the incredible Ryo Ishibashi, who would go on to star in several other J-horror films like The Grudge and Suicide Club) finds himself on the floor of his house, paralyzed after drinking some spiked-with-paralyzing-juice alcohol, and then Asami begins working on Aoyama.
Now, if it had just ended up at this point in the film being about Asami torturing the living piss out of Aoyama, that would be shocking, sure, but nothing I haven’t really seen before, even back then at the turn of the century. I grew up on movies that were nothing BUT gore-fests, and shocking too. Texas Chainsaw Massacre comes to mind, in that it wasn’t so much gory as the implied violence it was showing but not showing. Like the meat hook through Pam’s back. The same holds true for Audition, in that a lot of that last 20 minutes we don’t actually see so much as we hear and observe the horror on the face of Aoyama. This is more disturbing to me than actually showing all the straight up gore. And yet, and YET, NONE of this really hammers the nail in the mind coffin as much as the strange surreal dream sequence that occurs just as Aoyama falls to the floor. I can honestly say that I wanted to close my eyes so badly during all of that, but not because I was tired anymore. I was actually shaky, my palms and neck felt clammy, and every noise in the pitch dark apartment was amplified to a thousand. I won’t ruin it for you, in case you haven’t seen the dream sequence yet, though I have already alluded to a few things in it that really stood out. There is just something so strange and visceral about it, and that damn, aching cello score underneath it all, the out of tune piano chords being struck… I felt like I was losing my mind from it all.
The second thing I remember about watching Audition is that I made so many people in my life watch that last 20 minutes. I would do this whole routine where I would tell the people who were about to watch the ending everything what had happened up to that point. I neatly summarized it, then like a kid showing his friends a favorite toy, sat beside the dvd player and watched everyone’s reactions to what they were witnessing in my living room. It became like a rite of passage for many bands who stayed at my place while on tour, and I always, always, ALWAYS had it on for somebody at one of the many house parties I threw. It was like I HAD made those last 20 minutes or something. I seriously enjoyed watching my guests get so freaked out that some even left and went home and didn’t stay at my party. Or some of them found it incredible and this resulted in me discussing Asian horror films with those people for the rest of the party, which was really hard to do when I was drunk and just wanted to drag out every single horror movie I was discussing from my dvd library and watch them all at once. Or best of all, some pretty girl at the party would flirt with me, right on front of my girlfriend, and pretend to lightly touch me with her nails on my back or chest and say in the most kawaii voice imaginable…
Takashi Shimizu outdid himself with Ju-on, and for the record, I deeply loved his somewhat Americanized version of Ju-on as well. Sarah Michelle Gellar I probably could’ve done without, but her notwithstanding, the film worked on several different levels, in terms of translating a very creepy modern masterpiece of J-horror into something that American audiences could potentially grasp and at the very least, be creeped out by. I would say mission accomplished.
But then Shimizu makes Marebito, a lovely story about Takuyoshi, a photographer who probably could also be called an otaku of sorts, and his little adventure into the Land of the Dead, which coincidentally there is an entrance to this place amidst a secret passageway found in a Tokyo subway. It’s in the Netherworld that he explores for awhile, eventually coming to a massive cavern that overhangs an abyss of sorts, that he finds a beautiful naked girl chained up and unconscious. He proceeds to take her back to his tiny apartment, and when she wakes up, she needs to drink blood to not die, and apparently is also not very fond of acting like a human. Takuyoshi decides to call her “F,” or more affectionately, his little Kaspar Hauser. Trapped in a kind of isolated dungeon, or his apartment, as it were.
Once again, I don’t want to even bother with a plot synopsis, especially when this film doesn’t have enough plot to it that even remotely makes sense. I mean, it does, on some kind of weird, mind-tripping level. You have to buy into the ideas it sets forth, things like the Hollow Earth Theory, and the concept of creatures called DEROS that live in the world inside of our own who aren’t exactly the nicest species, if you can even call them that. I think it’s better, actually, if I don’t even summarize this movie too much, because that would take away a lot of the fun of the guessing game you’re going to be playing while watching it. And yes, you will be guessing every other second where the movie is going to take you, and you probably will be wrong with all of your guesses. I can practically guarantee it. I know when I initially watched Marebito, other than saying WHAT THE FUCK AM I WATCHING a million times, I just was mesmerized at how I didn’t see anything in this film coming. I mean, NOTHING. I love even how the narrator for us, who seems to be Takuyoshi, is an unreliable narrator. That’s all I will say about that, but when you look at shows like Mr. Robot, the unreliable narrator plot device works really well when it’s done correctly. And Marebito does it really, really, REALLY well.
DEROS=Detrimental Robots, and Mr. Robot. Go figure.
Anyway, I really wonder if Takashi Shimizu, had he released this film before Ju-on, would’ve been pegged as a kind of David Lynch of Japan, to the point where people would come to expect from him only the surreal, bizarre, inexplicable type of stories, and not the guy who penned what could be considered the second best Yurei film in the past twenty years, right behind Ringu? Come to think of it, “F” does look a bit like Kayako, though “F” isn’t a vengeful Yurei. That would be too normal for this story, even expected, and that’s saying a lot.
I can tell you one thing you can expect, and that is you will feel unsettled after watching this movie. It does play very smartly with the whole found footage, live camera approach, but it doesn’t get annoying at any point. It doesn’t necessarily stick with that perspective either, at times, and by doing so, it creates a weird kind of subtle creepiness that after many repeated viewings (should you actually watch this more than once, which I do recommend. Though maybe not more than four or five times at the most, or else you’ll have some serious sleeping problems) will stay with you long after you’re done watching this movie. I think that is what makes it so crazy to me. I mean, it’s not exactly a huge budgeted film, and some of the scenes in the Netherworld would’ve really benefited from an actual special effects budget, but then again, that’s part of the creep factor to it all, i.e., the fact that it seems so… unreal, yet it’s done with camera footage that makes it feel very, very real. And props to both the actor who plays Takuyoshi, and the actress who played “F” in this movie (Shinya Tsukamoto, and Tomomi Miyashita, respectively). They own every inch of their roles, especially Tomomi who I found to be very compelling in her transformation of this peculiar creature of a girl that Takuyoshi finds deep below the streets of Tokyo. And if there acting wasn’t enough to declare this movie a special kind of crazy, all the occult references in the film will have you reeling, simply because this movie doesn’t just borrow from occult ideas and theories about the unseen things in our world, but shows them to us up close and personal, and makes you wish that you might not have been given the chance to discover something that, like “F”, wasn’t meant to ever be found.
6. Kuchu Teien
I’m guessing this might be the first movie on my list you probably have never heard of. Director Toshiaki Toyoda is also probably not that well known outside of Japan either, unless you happened to see his awe-inspiring, near perfect film, Nine Souls. Kuchu Teien came shortly after 9 Souls, so I guess in some ways, it was supposed to match the brilliance of Nine Souls, or maybe just offer a completely different direction in terms of acting and subject matter? Not sure, but I do know that Toyoda took the novel this film is based on, which was written by the highly perceptive author Mitsuyo Kakuta (Some of her best works include Women on the other Shore and The Eighth Day, to name a few), and turned it into one bloody, visually stunning gem that has no equal. It’s probably my favorite movie on this entire list, save for what’s sitting at number one. I mean that too. I have watched this movie so many times I could practically quote it verbatim to anyone that might ask me to recite a line or two from it. Mostly, I think about all the incredible scenes in Kuchu Teien. Like how Eriko, the main character, imagines herself stabbing a woman with a fork at a restaurant, blood spurting everywhere, including the camera lens. Truly gruesome, and reminiscent of when Marion stabbed her Psychiatrist in Requiem for a Dream, and just as compelling even though Kuchu Teien is about five years late in showing us almost the same exact kind of fork stabbing fantasy from Requiem. And trust me when I tell you that Eriko has another kind of imagined fantasy that involves so much blood it could probably fill up a small lake.
But let me back up, since you probably don’t even know the plot of this film. I cringe when I have to recount what a movie is about, mostly because I hate spoiling the fun of watching a film you almost know nothing about, but here’s a super quick one minute synopsis:
Eriko is a housewife who is married to a boring salaryman. She has two kids, a daughter who is a delinquent that likes to miss school a lot, and an introverted son who likes to build things. Eriko’s husband is cheating on her with two different women, one of them their son’s tutor, and Eriko is basically a doormat for everyone in her life, Eriko’s nasty, dying mother included. Yet Eriko has always wanted a perfect family, and in their home, they don’t hide anything from each other, but agree to share the truth about how they feel towards one another. That’s all a façade, though, as each person in this family continues to hide things, even repressing horrible memories that threaten to derail this attempt at a normal, suburban style life they are all pretending to be living.
And it does come crashing down for each person, especially poor Eriko. Now, again, I hate getting into too many particulars, but this probably doesn’t sound all that crazy, and I suppose from the perspective of the other films I’ve included on this list, it might be the least crazy in terms of gore, guts being spilled, and deaths. Nobody really even dies in this movie, though again, that doesn’t mean you don’t see an imagined death, and a TON of blood (don’t want to reveal why you see all that blood though, but it’s probably one of the best scenes in the film). I think, for me at least, the craziness comes in the form of how disturbing psychologically Kuchu Teien gets by the end of the film. Also, I think it’s the most RELATABLE film on this entire list. I think that anyone who watches this film will find a piece of themselves inserted somewhere in one or more of the conflicts the characters go through. And sometimes, it can be more crazier to be cheating on your wife with a woman who dominates you sexually than it is to have a yurei chasing you around an abandoned building, or your home. Imagine being the husband and having your feelings fluctuate between ecstasy from being a total “M” with your mistress, then you come home and want to be the “S” with your wife, only she isn’t having none of it, won’t even think about fucking you, so you feel you have no choice but to keep getting dominated by a mistress who ultimately could give a fuck about your existence. That’s horror of the real life kind.
Or maybe you are a high school girl who wants to fuck your boyfriend, but end up going to the very same love hotel that your mother and father fucked when they had you. If that alone isn’t kind of yucky, imagine going back to that same place against your better judgment with a boy who isn’t your boyfriend, because you don’t mind cheating because it seems to be in your DNA to do so, and you find out the boy you decide to cheat on your boyfriend with isn’t exactly a nice guy, but rather a vision of real life, perverted evil that’s there to take away any shred of innocence you might have left by the time you are at the old age of 16.
Watch this film, many times if possible. It’s not the kind of film that is going to make you jump with fright. It’s not that kind of crazy. It’s a movie that inflates the worst things about being part of a family that shouldn’t be a family anymore, but still tries to make things work, and how this can be sometimes more crazier and fucked up than any horror movie out there. I speak from experience.
….And then there’s 2LDK. Remember how I just got done praising a movie about unstable families and the psychological shit that goes on between family members who live with each other under the same roof? Well, how about all the psychological shit that happens when you have a roommate that just doesn’t get you, or respect your personal space, or has annoying habits that make you want to bash their brains in?
Well, what if you DID bash their brains in?
2LDK is actually kind of funny, in a dark humor sort of way. You have two girls who are aspiring actresses that live together as roommates in a nice apartment, complete with two bedrooms, living room, and kitchen. Hence, 2LDK.
Both these girls are polar opposites. Both girls in their minds verbally shred the other to pieces while maintaining some good old fashion Japanese “tatemae” as two girls living together who aren’t necessarily friends. And friends they surely are not.
Once boundaries get crossed, however, the movie becomes a slugfest between these girls, who go from throwing eggs to swinging swords at each other. It’s actually kind of fun to watch, but mostly because I’m sure all of us have had a roommate we wanted to electrocute in the bath tub, or throw eggs at, or try to cut their heads off. Of course, most people don’t actually do this, only imagine it in their heads, but thankfully, 2LDK is not some cop out imaginative battle that at the end turns out to not be real. It’s, uh, pretty real, with only a little bit of flashback that thankfully, doesn’t take up a whole bunch of screen time. Especially considering what that flashback is, I am grateful it’s minimal.
This movie is fun too, but the fact that I can say that after watching this movie about 45 times in my life now really begs the question: What does that say about me, that I think it’s fun to watch two girls beat the living piss out of each other for an entire movie, and that’s it? I mean, no change of scenery except the rooms in the apartment. No other plot point, or large life lesson to be learned, or happy ending to make it okay that we watched such sheer brutality. I guess you could say this film IS somewhat symbolic of how working and growing up in Japan imposes a kind of social order on you that is hard to break out of, so when you DO break out, for whatever reason, it tends to be in a HUGE way. I guess you could even say that between the two girls, one who is a brainiac and the other who is more of a fashionista, you could argue that the director is saying that one isn’t necessarily better than the other, and being one or the other type of individual doesn’t necessarily guarantee you happiness, or success.
This is another one of my personal favs of the J-horror universe. It’s a movie that can NEVER be redone in the Western world, and I don’t even think the best American director could remake 2LDK with American actresses and it not come off as more comedy than horror or just plain crazy. The balance between the laughs you might get from how much these girls go at it, both mentally and physically, and how much it will start to hurt to see the nasty, nasty, and I mean FUCKING NASTY things they do to each other, is the best part of this movie. And it’s also the reason why this movie is distinctly Japanese. The dichotomy between what’s normal in Japanese society and what’s extreme all depends on if you’re willing to adapt to Japan’s social climate, or buck the system and say fuck it. No wonder Japan is the center of the world for large scale escapism like the idol culture, or hostess clubs, or anime. That was kind of my one thought I remember having when I finished watching the movie the fourth or fifth time in my life (because the first couple of times, I had to pick my jaw up from the floor from being shocked by what I had seen). I kept thinking that if either one of these girls in the movie had an outlet they could really get all otaku-like about, maybe their exploding at each other wouldn’t have happened, or been taken to such a vicious extreme. And I think, in a way, you could say the same about the whole of Japan’s society.
4. Cold Fish
There are way too many films by Shion Sono that I could list on a top ten Crazy Japanese Horror film list that it’s almost not fair to even put Cold Fish on here. Or the next movie on this list which also was made by Sono. I mean, Suicide Club, Love Exposure, Noriko’s Dinner Table… take your pick, as they are all perfect films that are studies in madness. Lots and lots of madness.
The last half hour of Cold Fish is probably what made me choose this film over so many of the other Sono masterpieces. I mean, sure, the first few minutes of Suicide Club is damn near historical if we’re talking about things you can’t ever erase from your mind because it’s TOO psychotic, but Cold Fish is a balancing act of so many scenes that are so over the top, the movie would be caricature, if it weren’t for the deeper things going on in every single scene. I know this all probably sounds like review fluff, but if you think that, well, then allow me to retort!
Take the first seconds of the film… Megumi Kagurazaka plays Taeko, a bored housewife who is the second wife of fish store owner Nobuyuki Syamoto, who is played by Mitsuru Fukikoshi. Taeko is picking up food to make dinner for Nouyuki and his daughter, Mitsuko. You might laugh at how she carelessly cooks everything, all to a marching theme as the title credits pop up, but what we’re really seeing here is Taeko looking for an opportunity to have something more in her life. Same with Mitsuko, who basically doesn’t respect her father, running out during dinner to take off with a guy. And same with Nobuyuki, who feels so trapped in his own skin he doesn’t know how to control his own daughter, or please his new wife, or have a bigger fish store. Of course, when Nobuyuki ends up meeting Murata, the owner of a much larger fish store, and who has a lascivious wife who you might argue is much hotter than his wife Taeko, or maybe more, um, experienced might be the better word, well, you can see where this is going, right? Murata and his wife and his store are everything that is missing in Nobuyuki’s life. So what is a guy to do but submit to Murata, this much larger version of himself, who seems to promise Nobuyuki the chance to be as successful as he is in all things, both professionally and personally.
Not so fast though.
If we back up to that scene with Taeko, it’s the fact that Sono takes the time to show us her perspective before we even see Nobuyuki’s perspective. He’s the main character. But the balance of the film would’ve immediately been off if it started out with Nobuyuki. I’m not sure if that’s obvious or not, but throughout the two plus hours of Cold Fish, we see the perspectives of Murata, Murata’s wife, Taeko, and Nobuyuki, and with each shift in perspective, things get more and more fucked up. And by fucked up, I mean butchering, raping, stabbings, bludgeonings, stranglings, and suicide. All in the name of real life too, apparently, as the movie is somewhat based on the Saitama Serial Killers who were the Japanese husband and wife team of dog breeders that murdered some of their customers, a few years back.
Well, true to life, Murata and his wife gleefully dispose of customers they are scamming out of millions of yen into buying overpriced exotic fish, and they drag Nobuyuki and his whole family into their affairs too. Only Nobuyuki seems able to save his family, assert his manhood, and make everything right, if only he can get stop staring at the stars for a few minutes. Literally.
I have to point out that I’m a HUGE, HUGE fan of Sono. I relish in everything he does. He just gets my sense of gore and violence and humor and how I like all these things to be neatly wrapped into a film. Cold Fish is darkly funny at times, much like 2LDK is, but it’s also a balance of controversial and dramatic, a weak man and the somewhat mysognynistic male archetype, and two women who are gravure beauties that represent going along with the flow and wallowing in the bloody rivers that flow by the end of the movie. Oh, and for what it’s worth, Megumi Kagurazaka is one of the hottest women alive on this planet today, easily, and this is why I respect Sion all the more, as he allows us all to soak in her acting talent and her other… assets, unabashedly and without a care in the world as to what anyone might think of her performance, or anything he does in any of his films. And Megumi is Sion’s wife, mind you.
But that kind of says a lot about Sion that he would support his wife in being creative, both with her clothes on or without, and also how he could take somebody like the legendary Asuka Kurosawa (Just watch A Snake of June and you’ll understand why she’s “legendary”) and cover her in buckets and buckets of blood and organs, and turn their performances into something that could be looked at as “brave, cinematic art,” or trashed as “Gore porn that is both offensive and degrading to women.” Sion forces you to take a stand on one side of the mental asylum walls or the other with each of his films, perhaps none more so than Cold Fish.
And I know which side I am standing on. How about you?
3. Strange Circus
It’s quite possible that Shion Sono, who is the director of Strange Circus (which you probably already knew if you are even reading my list), peaked creatively with Strange Circus. That’s not to say that the overwhelming body of films he’s put out since Strange Circus is all that bad. But where do you go from showcasing a young girl being shoved by her father inside of a cello case with a special peephole, and then the young girl is made by the father to watch him have sex with her mother, and then the young girl has sex with the father, while the mother is pushed inside the cello case and made to watch, and then the mother gets jealous of her daughter and proceeds to abuse the living piss out of the girl? And that’s all within the first half of the movie?
Sono is known for allowing his vision to go any damn direction it pleases, no matter what anyone thinks about it, no matter how much money his movies will make, and no matter what taboo line gets crossed. And yet, it all works somehow as to not offend but to make a viewer really, really think about the message of his films. Suicide Club wasn’t just about 54 Japanese school girls jumping to their deaths in front of a train at Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. It was a commentary on Japanese society and how followers are made of children when the parents aren’t looking after them properly. Or something like that. And if we look at his other films like Love Exposure, Guilty of Romance, and Cold Fish, they are all well packaged middle fingers to the things Sono sees in his Japanese peers and in Japanese culture. That doesn’t mean an American like myself can’t access these feelings of rebellion in his works. I am a huge fan of AKB48, and when I watch Suicide Club, I can see how in Suicide Club the J pop idol group in it, Dessert, is comparable to the trends and devotion that groups like AKB48 inspire in all of their fans. And in Suicide Club’s case, perhaps to a level of extremism and violence. Anyway, the level of complexity in so many of Sono’s works is too baffling even for my mind, which is why I think he might be one of the greatest living directors of our generation.
And that kind of leads me back to Strange Circus. I could’ve probably done without the actual “circus” stuff in the movie, though I get completely that it needed to be in the film. I just hate anything to do with the circus, unless it’s Cirque Du Soleil. But this is hardly what I’m referring to in Strange Circus, as this film has guillotines as circus acts. Literally. Also, there is such a drastic change halfway through Strange Circus, in that the God awful, stomach churning abuse of the young girl in the first half of the movie, turns out to be all the creation of a famous writer, Taeko Mitzusawa, who is an iconoclast and also stuck in a wheelchair. Or so it would seem. When she’s assigned an assistant to help her with her latest story, we soon find out that Taeko isn’t exactly, uh, all there (sorry for the bad pun!). She also seems to be all about revenge of the highest and most grotesque order, which is what the last half of the film becomes about. Or does it? By the end of the film, you have to wonder what was really real and what wasn’t. Was the young girl in the beginning a real person and not some made up character by Taeko? Is the young girl in the beginning actually Taeko? Just a few of the larger, more obvious questions you’ll be asking straight away once the film finishes its second act, but some more pervasive things might start nagging at you as well about what you’re watching. The girl’s father, who is also the guy in charge at her school, is allowed to watch porn in his office? And what’s with the whole warped American Beauty scene with Taeko in a bed of roses, or is that supposed to symbolize a birth of some sort? And What in fucking Christ in hell were Rie Kuwana’s parents thinking in allowing Sono to shove this poor little girl into a cello case and watch her onscreen parents fuck the living daylights out of each other?
There are few movies that make the mind go rampant with questions, or thoughts, and few movies that have ever made me want to sit at a Denny’s all night and discuss every frame of every single thing I just watched. And arguably, THIS might actually be the craziest film on this list, but maybe not the most accessible or easy to comprehend. I guess that’s the point of calling something crazy, right? But in Sono’s case, crazy is like the starting point to his films. It’s like only paying attention to the first level of 8 levels of hell that he shows you with what he chooses to show us with all of his cinematic masterpieces. So I guess in that sense, this movie is so, so much more than a visceral, first time watching and hating it or loving it kind of movie. It’s something that could be hung up in Andy Warhol’s art gallery in Pittsburgh, right next to Warhol’s famous “electric chair” painting.
Totally and completely a must see for anyone interested in what real horror looks like through the eyes of an artist.
2. Red Room
So Red Room, which was made by the very notorious Japanese V-Film Director Daisuke Yamanouchi, looks like it was filmed for a budget of around $600 dollars. I’m just guessing with this number, but I think I’m probably spot on with the amount. It’s probably the exact amount anyone was willing to give Daisuke to make Red Room. I just wanted to get this out of the way in case you saw this on my list, looked up this film, and thought to yourself that I might be pulling a fast one on you in putting this film as the second craziest Japanese movie I’ve ever seen or possibly that has ever been made. I promise you I’m not joking with what I’m about to tell you.
In fairness, though, to the idea that this movie might be disregarded as nothing more than cheaply produced sleaze with laugh out loud parts, I might agree completely with you in that assessment of the movie as well. It certainly has some scenes in the movie that had me on the floor cracking up, but weirdly enough, I didn’t and couldn’t stop watching the movie. And therein lies the absolute, complete brilliance of Red Room. It seriously doesn’t matter who you are on this planet… very few of us will look away when we see a body on the side of the road as we pass it by, with ambulances everywhere, cops directing traffic, and a fireman washing the blood off the pavement. We will actually LOOK for the body, if only to quickly turn away once we find it, but the point is… we DON’T STOP LOOKING. And that, my friends, is what Red Room has that very, very few movies possess, at the very heart of it.
Also, before I go any farther, don’t confuse the title of this movie with the ultra-creepy, real life RED ROOM internet pop up ad that is a kind of strange curse which has real life death attached to it. I will write no further about it because it’s one of the very few things in this world that is genuinely scary and unexplainable. Nuff said.
But back to the RED ROOM movie. Well, you know if the movie’s distributor, Unearthed Films, deemed it worthy enough of an English subbing and worldwide distribution, then it probably has something akin to gross out gore and violence. I mean, Unearthed Films put out the Guinea Pig Series, which isn’t really my thing at all, but damned if I don’t have a copy of Flower of Flesh and Blood sitting in my DVD Rack right now and have watched it at least once. Anyway, Red Room does have some over the top gore, but again, the special effects budget in this movie is pretty much nonexistent, so really, you don’t have to worry too much about the gross out factor when it comes to blood and guts. There’s just so much more worse things this movie offers up instead of a gabillion dollar special effects extravaganza. Innovation is a good example.
The movie’s premise is simple: Four people are put into a room, which is soaked in the color red (the lighting I’m talking about… the red coloring from the blood spilled comes later), and have to draw from a deck of cards. On one of the cards, there is the symbol of a CROWN. The cards are picked blindly by those in the room, and whoever gets the card with the crown symbol is the KING. That person gets to have two people do ANYTHING they can think of, as the two people are put inside of a cage in the room and their fate is left up to the imagination and diabolical nature of the king. The goal is to make everyone quit or give up, until there is only 1 person left. And that person gets a hefty sum of cash as a reward, somewhere to the tune of 10 million yen.
The premise alone was enough to sell me on how incredible this movie was going to be, even with the shitty production value it had, within the first few minutes. I wasn’t expecting what I would see for the next hour (the movie is very short, which kind of adds to the crazy in some way, at least in my opinion it does), or how what I would see would make me think for YEARS after I first saw this film. I’m STILL thinking about it (obviously!). And here’s why:
Did you ever ask yourself what you would do to somebody had hurt your child or your wife or loved one, if you could have just 30 minutes alone in a room with them? Can you imagine all the sick and fucked up ways to dismember, disfigure, even murder that person who hurt somebody you cared about? RED ROOM takes this to that kind of place in your thoughts, which is something I guarantee every single person has thought about doing, even if they never had lost somebody, at least once. I think Red Room taps this kind of desire, too, in us to do sick and depraved things to each other, but in the case with Red Room, we get paid for doing so as a result. And if you think about it further, it’s entirely possible that if you play the King game, you might never have to suffer at the hands of those you are going to make suffer, as you might always draw the King card, or not get picked by whoever has the King card to go into the cage. Conversely, if you dish out some beyond fucked up thing to somebody as the King, and then you are called to be in the locked room by the person you just did some horrible shit to, could you endure what would most certainly be payback of the highest and sickest order, all for the sake of getting paid?
I mean, the sheer creative possibilities of this concept are what drives this movie for me. I can completely forget about the trashy element of it and almost write my own narrative. I remember one of the thoughts I had after seeing the movie for the first time was how amazing it would be to keep putting out movies based on the King Game and the concept of getting paid to do horrible things to each other. And then Red Room 2 came out, which certainly DID expand on the idea a lot more, and then… nothing. No more sequels. But whatever on that. So then I got to thinking how crazy it would be to have a Youtube Channel set up where people can film themselves playing this game with their friends. And like everyday people could upload their games to the channel for us to watch. You could even maybe have people pay for a subscription to such a channel, maybe by moving it to a paid streaming service like Netflix or Amazon’s streaming division. Then I started to think about how this idea was sort of similar to The Running Man, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, a movie that came out in the 80’s that was all about killing as entertainment for the masses. And I’m sure there are so many other movies and books even written about this kind of thing (Uh, Hunger Games, anyone?), but nothing could be as basic in its depravity and simplicity as what is found in Red Room.
I guess it’s kind of in that basic spirit that the participants in the first Red Room movie aren’t given that many things to torture each other with. I mean, a chair, a blow dryer, a hair clip (Or clothes pin? I’m not sure), and a few other trivial everyday things, and that’s it. But it’s the psychological stuff that is where the real damage is, as each player kind of has it in for each other in some kind of way, or at least by the end of the movie, they do. And of course, the sexual kinds of torture inflicted on each other is pretty amazing too. Turns out you don’t need weapons when you can piss into people’s mouths and stick things inside vaginas that should never be stuck inside of vaginas. Just imagine yourself playing this game with ugly girls, hot girls, hot men, ugly men…. And you literally could make these people do ANYTHING your mind can come up with to each other? Where would your imagination of torture begin and end, without morality attached to your actions, or without being worried about going to jail or breaking any laws, because there are no laws to be broke inside the Red Room, and only a few simple rules need to be followed and that’s it?
I am really not one for torture films, and perhaps Red Room can qualify as torture porn of the worst kind, but I am all about the creative exploration of portraying the horrific in film. It can honestly be said that this movie is probably the ultimate in terms of creative horror that doesn’t depend on anything but a solid idea to make your mind and heart reel from the possibilities of what you just watched, and also what could be if the concept of the King Game became something much… larger, or more pervasive, or something that a group of people try in real life. I mean, with the way that life imitates art, it would be no surprise to me, even, to see something like a real life King Game pop up on the Darknet and get worldwide attention for it. I should probably say it’s just a matter of time before it does. It’s all kinds of crazy to me that a movie that nobody probably has ever paid attention to could one day reshape the definition we have for cruelty towards each other, and all in the name of entertainment.
Now that’s true horror by my standards.
1. Kokuhaku (Confessions)
A few years back, a bored housewife by the name of Kanae Minato decided to write a story about a teacher who carries out a brilliant revenge plan on two students that murdered her four-year-old daughter and got away with it. Kanae wrote her story in between doing household chores too. If that isn’t crazy enough, let me tell you about her book that turned into a movie so stunning, so shocking, so relevant to each one of us, and so brutally true in its handling of emotions that it’s hard to even fathom or understand fully. You have to watch this movie at least five times before it sinks in just HOW much is really being said in each of the narratives, of which there are several, as the perspective of the movie shifts frequently, in keeping with the spirit of Kanae’s novel that does the same throughout each of its chapters. It’s because of all this that Kokuhaku has gone on to win a shit ton of awards all over the world, and for many good reasons.
I think it’s important to start with the fact that this movie was directed by Tetsuya Nakashima, a director more known for comedies perhaps than unrelenting psychological revenge movies like Kokuhaku. I was a little scared when I had heard that Tetsuya was being given the reigns to adapt a novel like Kokuhaku. Yet I think it’s because Tetsuya isn’t coming from some intense horror background that he was able to do such a great job with the adaptation. I probably should’ve known he would though; Kamikaze Girls is such a classic, fun movie with a bit of depth to it as well. Too bad he didn’t end up directing the Attack on Titan live action movie like he was supposed to. From what I hear, the Attack on Titan live action movie that has been made is a complete mess and waste of time.
Moving on, we have to look at the fact that Tetsuya assembled a flawless cast. Seriously, there’s not one weak link on the list of both the adults and the teens that did this film. I’m particularly moved by Takako Matsu’s performance as the mother, Yuko Moriguchi, and how for the first half hour of the movie, she delivers an incredible monologue of sorts to her classroom of students that by the end of it leaves everyone in her classroom in horror, and you probably will be too. I won’t go into the details as to why, but rather, the part about this which splatters my brain against the wall is that Takako delivers this monologue so… effortlessly. I completely believed every word she said, felt all the restrained emotion behind her pain that she conveyed to her students about losing her daughter to two students in her class, and got shivers up my spine when she announces how she exacted her revenge against the two students who don’t even realize what she had done to them. That is, until she tells them, since they are in the classroom with her.
Got milk, anyone?
The students are incredible as well, in the sense that I felt they portrayed a level of cruelty that I didn’t think was possible by children. But this is Japan we’re talking about, and if you know anything about the school culture of Japan, it’s full of what’s known as ijime, or bullying. I mean, ijime is so bad there that kids regularly kill themselves rather than face it at school, or become hikkikimori and never deal with it at all for most of their natural lives thereafter, if not for all of the rest of their natural lives. Yet where Kokuhaku avoids being another movie about school bullying is that the crime that happens is to an innocent little child. I would argue that the two students who killed the little girl were also in terrible positions within their lives as well. Shuya Watanabe, who was the mastermind behind killing the teacher’s daughter, didn’t set out to kill her necessarily, but basically to get the attention of his mother with his inventions, one of which was the instigation behind seeking out Yuko’s daughter to try the invention out on. That didn’t go so well though.
The other student involved in the murder, Naoki Shimomura, just wanted to be accepted by Shuya, and went along with Shuya’s plan. Because of his role in the murder, Naoki ends up devolving mentally into being unable to deal with life at all, and the same could be said of Naoki’s mother, who is played beautifully and convincingly by Yoshino Kimura. My GOD does Yoshino play the shit out of her role! But anyway, what happens from this point is one series of perspective changes after another, until we are left with Yuko’s revenge being executed in such a clever way that I could only marvel at how much concise planning and care it would’ve taken Yuko to carry out such a plan in real life. Yet at the same time, I didn’t feel I was watching a movie. The whole suspension of disbelief was in full effect with Kokuhaku, and I was deeply moved, to the point of tears, by the end, and not because the ending is sad by any means, but because I felt I had truly watched one of the greatest movies ever made. And that’s not hyperbole either. It takes the idea of “crazy” to an ENTIRELY new level, one that’s meaningful and important. I won’t wax poetic here or take this into a conversation about philosophy and religion, but seriously, ask yourself, if somebody killed your loved one, what would you do to get revenge? Kind of like how Red Room allows that idea to be touched upon, albeit in a exploitative, trashy kind of way, Kokuhaku explores the utter anguish of a mother who couldn’t allow the murderers of her little child to go without being punished, which they would’ve thanks to some outdated Japanese law about minors who commit crimes not getting the appropriate level of justice for what they do while still a minor, thus allowing many juveniles in Japan to be able to murder without reproach. This isn’t exactly true these days, but it still exists on some level, and anyway, what’s so hard to overcome that Kokuhaku asks you to consider, is if you could do what Yuko did to the two students, first of all, WOULD YOU? And second of all, does that make Yuko just as bad as those two kids for the revenge she carries out, which, lets just say, involves killing others not directly related to the crime against her daughter? I love movies that make you think while shocking the living piss right out of you, and also movies that don’t shy away from violence or taboo subjects. I think kids killing little kids is something you aren’t going to see everyday on TV, but then again, in our culture recently, we’ve seen a real embrace of the anti-hero, haven’t we? If you look at shows like Breaking Bad, or before that, The Sopranos, we end up rooting for bad people doing bad things to further their own selfish gains. We treat them not as criminals but as people to almost call role models. Almost.
What’s so great about Yuko, though, is that she’s not acting JUST out of pure emotional anguish. There’s a level of snobbery to her actions that I think defies the image you might have of the good sensei teacher who should be there for her students. And she also is trying to be strong after losing her only child but simply can’t go on living as though nothing happened. I think anyone who loses a child probably understands what I’m trying to say. I am the father of a one-year-old little girl, and if two students killed her and didn’t show remorse for her actions, didn’t get punished by the law, there’s no telling what I would do to them. And you better be God damn sure I would get revenge, even if it meant spending the rest of my life in a jail cell. My daughter is my entire life, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her. And what I think people who aren’t parents maybe can never fully understand is this kind of maternal and in my case, paternal, bond that you can have with a child. You want to protect them, to care for them, and to see them grow into reflections of your good actions towards them while they’ve grown up. What’s another great point about Kokuhaku is that Shuya’s mother broke that bond with him, and the results of that were devastating to Shuya to the point where he had no problem with committing murder, even if it was unintentional, to work out this kind of need to get that maternal bond back with his mother. And if you look at Naoki’s mother, she is a great, great example of what I mean about loving your child no matter what. I mean, she couldn’t accept that her son had done something so horrific to a child, but she made up excuses and everything else to keep that bond going with Naoki, even though it was truly hopeless to do so. Shit, you could argue that Naoki’s mother is the only real hero in Kokuhaku, if there is even a person in Kokuhaku that could be called that. But a real parent that is worth anything never gives up on their child. I always tell people that if my daughter grows up to be a child-raping pedophile who also kills small cats for fun, I would still love my daughter with everything that I am, I would still look at her the same way that I look at her now, in the sense that I love her unconditionally, and my love is definitely not dependent on her actions. And Kokuhaku shows us both the results of when a parent who loves a child unconditionally loses that child she loves so much, and also what happens when that unconditional love simply vanishes from a child’s life and the child has to deal with that loss, for better or in the movie’s case, for much, much worse.
I could go on, but this movie deserves to be more than just the number one on a top ten Japanese Horror Movies that are Crazy list. It’s an essential, completely worthy film of the highest viewing order. And I should quickly mention that the soundtrack is killer. I mean, fucking BORIS? You can’t get cooler than that. Oh, and my favorite idol group, AKB48, is not only in the movie (well, kind of), but one of my favorite songs by them is too. You add great music with a beautifully shot movie that is, at times, just as violent as it is contemplative, and you’ll never look at what it means for a movie to be “crazy” the same.
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