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Shudan Satsujin Kurabu (Ishikawa Hitoshi 2003)


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Shudan Satsujin Kurabu
[Group Murder Club]

Genre: Slasher / Supernatural Horror (Comedic)

review in one breath

I've watched quite a few Japanese films and TV dramas, but I must confess that I have not seen anything from Japan that quite resembles Shudan Satsujin Club. This is part schlocky slasher and part bizarre comedy. In some respects Shudan Satsujin Club strongly alludes to the comedic horror style of Evil Dead.


One the one hand, director Ishikawa Hitoshi (also known as Ijuin Go) is clearly hoping to ride the wave of popularity achieved by the similarly themed (or at least similarly titled) Suicide Circle (2001). His hope seems to have been realized, with a rather widespread popularity for this made-for-TV production and a recent release of a sequel Shudan Satsujin Club: Returns (2004). Although Ishikawa has produced a large number of films, very few have trickled over onto Western radar. Perhaps his most prominent exposure to Western audiences is as the screen writer for Miike Takashi's Dead or Alive: Final (2002).

But Shudan Satsujin Club is a radically different film than Suicide Circle. In Suicide Circle there was clearly a greater sinister force at work manipulating isolated souls into self destruction. The scenario of Shudan Satsujin Club grounds solely in contemporary Japanese social recognition of a moral and sexual crisis among high school girls. In some cases, this crises can be directly attributed to increasing pressure from adult male society. In other cases, it is clearly due to a seeming lack of moral conscience in the girls themselves.

For example, only two days ago (May 13, 2004) the headline news story on Mainichi Newspaper was Police sergeant busted for paying high school girl for sex. Over the past six months, the number of similar cases has becomes staggering. Promiscuity, prostitution and increasing brazenness among high school girls in Japan has been on a drastic increase over the past few years and the Japanese public, in trying to deal with this, has found itself wrestling a two-headed monster. One the one hand, there is a clear willingness of these girls to abandon traditional morals in the search of money and material possessions. On the other hand, this also clearly involves the victimization of young girls by an increasingly pervasive social attitude that adult male sexual interest may indeed extend to high school aged girls.

Story

Shudan Satsujin Club starts with scenes of high school girls acting raucously in public, or getting into trouble shoplifting, or selling their used underwear to perverts, or even selling themselves to middle-aged salarymen for a quickie in the Love Hotel. We are then introduced to (a case in point) the young high school girl Hiroe, as she sits sullenly in an overly decorated room within a Love Hotel with the rather strange and insecure middle-aged man Takezo. Takezo's inferiority and dysfunction virtually oozes from him, and Hiroe, sensing this, dislikes the situation even more.

After failed attempts at small talk (and some really bad dancing) Takezo asks if he can take pictures of her in cute (dressed) poses. She agrees and he so over-excitedly digs through his bag to find his Polaroid camera that Hiroe has to do a double-take. A few snapshots later, Hiroe is bored again and suggests that she take pictures of Takezo instead. This eventually involves Takezo wearing thick lipstick, rouge and eyeshadow while sobbing tears of joy over Hiroe's comment that he looks "cute" all prettied up. (?)

The sobbing Takezo turns violent, however, when Hiroe stumbles upon a small tattered scroll in Takezo's gym bag. In the ensuing struggle, Takezo is thrown against a coat hook and impaled through the back of his skull. Hiroe looks on in horror as Takezo stares at her with glazed eyes, hanging from the coat hook. Hiroe quickly calls her friends and explains everything that has happened. They seem hardly phased by the dilemma and quickly meet up with her in the love hotel room, where they conjure up plans to dispose of Takezo's body. After great effort and execution, including the insertion of a tampon into Takezo's gaping neck hole, they drive the body to a remote forest for burial. Throughout the entire process, these 5 high school girls remain deftly calm and calculated. Cold, calculated devils in knee socks and school uniform skirts.

Back in the city, Hiroe sees her photo posted throughout the neighborhood on little advertisements for guys looking for a good time (ie, a "real high school prostitute"). Even more shocking is the fact that the photo is one which Takezo took, photos she ripped up and discarded. As she is ripping the flyers off the wall of a phone booth, the phone rings. She hesitantly answers it and hears Takezo calmly declare, "Hiroe, I am still here." Sensing she is being followed by an ominous force, she flees. While trying to call her friend on a cell phone, Takezo's picture displays on the phone and she can hear his voice scorning her.

Its here where the girls bring out the sharp, powered garden tools and attempt to ensure that Takezo is down for good. Despite their best efforts, however, Takezo returns again and again in an ultimate game of cat and mouse. And here, the mice get pulverized by the cat.

comment

What follows is a uniquely bizarre tale which mixes strong shlock gore with outright comedy and indie-reminiscent cinematography. Standard cinematic special effects are sorely missing, but the styles Ishikawa employs throughout are so experimental and over-the-top that they become comedic elements in and of themselves. The styles even parody themselves within the film, cluing the audience that Ishikawa is having fun with this. There are, of course, other examples of comedic Japanese horror, for example Full Metal Yakuza, but the type of comedic approach used in Shudan Satsujin Club seems truly unique (in Japanese film). I strongly suspect that it is precisely this uncharacteristic humor which drove the film's popularity among Japanese audiences more than the film's acting or message.

Shudan Satsujin Club was if anything entertaining. In many instances, the entertainment derives either from the totally unbelievable, over-the-top nature of the story itself, or from the intentionally comedic camera styles. One the surface, this film is rather light fare and clearly hopes to come across as a comedy (horror). This was definitely fun to watch, and is worth the viewing simply to experience the cinematic experimentation, some of which are quite effective.

perhaps the following comments constitute spoilers

Maybe I think too much, but I need to mention my curiosity as to what is going on below the surface in Shudan Satsujin Club. I mean, what exactly is this film trying to say?

From the title and film graphics, one is easily led to believe that this film is about a gang of high school girls gone bad, perhaps exacting revenge upon those who do or do not deserve it. Thus, you expect some type of cause and effect, some ground of identifying with these girls as the film's main characters. The girls, of course, need to be morally vacuous in order for them to be able to hack their victims into little pieces using powered garden tools, but still, some notion of justice or revenge or something should underlie their actions.

But it becomes quickly apparent that Takezo the pervert is the good guy and central focus here. All the film's sympathetic energies are channeled toward him and (in fact) away from the high school girls, who are gradually cut down, one by one, in a very gruesome manner and in the end serve only as cute fodder for the schlock gore. As he pursues Hiroe in an early scene, he accusingly yells at her, "teenage prostitute!", as if Hiroe is somehow being chased because she deserves it for being morally lax. The film makes Takezo the moral high point even after letting the audience know that he is a serial killer of young girls, and that his little scroll is chock-full of the names and "shortcomings" of dozens of girls which he fixated on and then killed.

To soften this rather jarring contradiction, Ishikawa tries to humorously suggest that it is merely Takezo's left hand which is the murderous beast. Thus we are told not to blame Takezo for all that he has done. We must blame his left hand, which seems to have a mind of its own (and here Western audiences will be strongly reminded of Bruce Campbell battling his demonic hand in Evil Dead). But in the end, Takezo reconciles with his left hand and carries on killing as he did in the past.

As I said before, I originally thought this film would be from the girls' vantage and would tell a story from their point of view. The story, however, is from Takezo's vantage and we are to sympathize with his continued attempts to befriend under aged girls and his continued feelings of rejection, which lead to his acts of violence on them. What is the meaning here?

I have a deep suspicion that this is at its core a story about getting even with those cruel little girls. For example, I imagine that in a society which looks lustfully at cute, nubile high school girls, those girls quickly learn the power they may wield over weak or compromised men. Maybe these girls are cruel. Maybe they are manipulating. Maybe they are evil.

If you take this position (which I am not suggesting you do), the film's method suddenly has a modicum of justification. Here then, Takezo is the victim of young girls' perpetual cruelty and humiliation, and his lashing back through violence is a vicarious catharsis for the myriad of other middle-aged perverts feeling the same way. (?)

That sounds pretty convoluted, I know. But I really wrestle with how Ishikawa can tell this story in such a way that the audience is laughing all the way through, despite its seemingly darker, more perverse implications.

Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Not much cultural relevance from this zombie-slasher film. A virtual "garden party" of gas-powered tools of death. Plenty of shlock gore, especially perpetrated upon young girls. No sexual content, though the notion of prostitution of high school girls permeates the film. Director Ishikawa's persistence in radically different cinematic styles truly pays off. I enjoyed the cinematic and humorous experimentation. I wish the film's social implications weren't quite so anti-girl.

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