Genre: Bloody and Claustrophobic Social Satire
review in one breath
Luchino's routine morning elevator ride up from her subterranean home on level 138 to her school many stories above turns horrific when the elevator operator is ordered to pick up two passengers from floor 99, the maximum security level. What starts as psychological manipulation soon turns wholly physical as both the cruel convicts and Luchino's own dysfunctional past are unleashed. And then every passenger must fight for his or her survival.
This film is written and directed by the relatively young (b. 1978)Yamaguchi Hiroki. This is Yamaguchi's 3rd film. His first film is the 1999 Hateshinai tameiki also starring Fujisaki Rukino (aka Luchino) who plays the lead role in the current film as a young girl named, well, Luchino.
The title Hellevator is purely a Western concoction appended to the Region 1 subtitled DVD. The actual title is "Gusha no Bindume". If one reads this title aloud using English rules of pronunciation, it does in fact sound like "Gusher No Binds Me", and indeed you can find MANY references to the film using this "title". But again, this is merely a Western addition which has absolutely nothing to do with the intended title. (Who, by the way, is "Gusher" and why does he (failingly) seek to bind you?)
Gusha is pronounced goosha and literally means "fool" or "nitwit". Bindzume - pronounced bin DZU MAY) means "bottling" or "bottled". Thus "gusha no bindzume" literally means "the bottling of fools" or (more weakly) "bottled fools". (BTW: the "no" means "of" as in "the books of mine").
- [Mongip Note: This Western naming myth is so entrenched that this film simply cannot be found using "bindzume". Only (the incorrect) "bindume" is referenced. For this reason I have used the latter in this review's header and titles. (Hopefully those greater informed - such as yourself - will know better now and in the future.)]
This understanding of the title strikes at the very core of Yamaguchi's creative albeit low-budget project. The vast majority of the film consists of seven individuals literally "bottled up" in a claustrophobic subterranean elevator. Though Yamaguchi uses this scenario to initially poke fun at the routine of Japanese citizens cramming themselves like sardines onto the Yamanouchi line every morning, he soon turns his attention to worst case scenarios in such a small and confined place. What if things went badly while you were so tightly packed in among strangers? And what if some of those strangers were DEFINITELY anti-social?
Thus this film, at its core, is about a breakdown of social conventions -- even supposedly central notions of human morality -- once the otherwise protected spheres of personal space and protection are invaded.
In a strangely proto-Orwellian and subterranean society consisting of hundreds of descending levels of tunneled resident and business districts, Luchino makes her routine morning trek to her school via operator-driven elevators navigating the purely vertical transport from one level to another.
The morning starts out normal, seeing the usual crush of friends, businessmen and chattering civilians. But when the elevator operator suddenly receives a request to stop by "level 99", everyone's morning routine takes a MAJOR turn for the worse. They all know that Level 99 houses only the worst of criminals, those will will be "processed" (a term used forebodingly). There soon boards two very imposing and taunting characters overseen by a guard who obviously delights in abusing them. "The guard force attracts many sadists!", one of the prisoners smilingly informs the increasingly nervous passengers.
I will not go further so as to preserve the experience for yourself. Suffice it to say that whatever you can imagine might go wrong in this situation PALES IN COMPARISON to what you will see.
I thought this was a very creative and effective film despite its low budget. As I said earlier, the film is by and large confined to the small box of the elevator. This dynamic easily hearkens memories of The Cube wherein panic-stricken strangers found themselves trapped within an excruciatingly small box.
But rest assured, Hellevator is a very different bird than The Cube.
One final note: All of the Japanese names in this film, whether of individuals or of "levels" visited are in fact a mangled and unintelligible conglomerate of (what appears to be) Japanese and Russian. Though seemingly homogeneous to viewers relying on the subtitles, native Japanese speakers are experiencing a very clear dissonance. For example, this same phenomenon (though in reverse) would occur for Japanese viewers relying of a Japanese-subtitled version of Blade Runner during scenes involving the highly conflated (and thus futuristic) languages used by the masses. The subtitles simply read out what is being said without any reference as to HOW it is being said.
This is a very interesting low-budget experimental film which is readily available in subtitled format via the major US venues.
Version reviewed: Region 1 subtitled DVD available via mainstream US venues.
|A very creative, low-budget film by a rather young director.||Oh my. There is violence. Yes siree.||No elevator nookie.||I am strangely (and increasingly) impressed by what Yamaguchi pulled off given the resources at hand. (I sincerely hope he is given major cash for a future film!)|