Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Karaoke Terror/Shôwa kayô daizenshû (Japan, 2003)

(Trailer.) Based on a novel by Ryû Murakami, the man who penned the book source of Takashi Miike's infamous 1999 film Ôdishon/Audition, Karaoke Terror is one of those type of films one either loves or hates but that, no matter what one's personal reaction might be, remains etched in one's memory. (Miike, in turn, seems to have been an inspiration to the novel's author, for the ending of Karaoke Terror definitely calls to mind another of Miike's more infamous films—also a revenge story of sorts—that shall be left unnamed here.)
Karaoke Terror narrates a spiraling intensity of violence between two warring factions—a group of male twenty-something slackers and a group of divorced, middle-aged women all named Midori, all of whom are fans of karaoke—that escalates to the point of pure surreality. The film is at various times silly, disturbing, hilarious, sickening and even serious, but most of all, it is simply insane. In other words, a truly great mind-fuck of a film that, despite its clearly evident satirization of Japanese social attitudes, wallows so deeply in its own ridiculousness that it can be enjoyed as a simple exploitive level.
Karaoke Terror starts out focusing on a group of dudes that really have nothing much in common except their love of karaoke, which they do in full gear and with wild stage shows for an audience of no one other than themselves. One day, the swinging butt of one of the middle-aged Midoris catches the attention of the sleepy-eyed slacker who always carries a knife with him for no particular reason. Following her home, he asks her for a fuck and is so insulted that she is insulted by his request (and, worse, turns him down) that he slits her throat and leaves her to die gushing blood in the rain. She, in turn, is found by one of the other Midori who is on her way home from work, where one of her male coworkers responds to her kindness of sharing her umbrella in the rain by asking her if she would like to fuck. (When she is shocked, his response is that the question makes "6 out 8 women get wet".) The police are helpless to find the killer, while the response of the killer's friends when he tells them of his deed and shows them his bloody knife is that of mild interest and not shock or outrage. The Midoris, however, are not as helpless as the police and in no time they not only find out the identity the killer, but also know that every day at the same time he pisses against the wall of a girls' school. An eye for an eye, slacker one is soon dead, but then the remaining slackers decide that a tooth for a tooth, they must revenge the death of their friend. The body count grows, and the technology of the assaults increases with each fallen person until, well, a final solution is achieved and the sole survivor can once again sleep peacefully.
The more feminist-minded viewers will probably find the Midoris the more understandable (and thus likeable) of the two factions, especially since the film so clearly and consistently presents how little respect "women of that certain age" seem to get in Japan. The slackers are simply slackers and, as such, could change their situation any time they choose to—as is evident in reality by any number of real life slackers gone yuppie. The women, on the other hand, are pretty much stuck in the boat their society puts them in. Likewise, the slackers never really seem to grow or develop personally by the events that occur (other than to get increasingly bloodthirsty), while the actions definitely and obviously lead to personal growth in the women that transcends their initial bloodlust. In the end, however, whether or not the viewer even needs to consciously consider the statements and criticism presented in Karaoke Terror is arguable: Although a film of obvious social criticism, the interpretation of which could easily fill pages, the truth of the matter is that most people will enjoy this enjoyably trashy oddity for the giddy excesses of the black humor, and not for the statements it makes about contemporary Japanese society.
A sublimely ridiculous black comedy that very much panders to the cult-movie sensibility, Karaoke Terror clearly deserves more attention than it has had to date.

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