Genre: B-Grade Youth Slasher De-Fanged
review in one breath
The year is 2025, the entire human genome has been decoded, and the genetic fingerprints for human violence have been identified. In a highly classified attempt to study the effects of this genetic disposition to violence, a small group of youth exhibiting the gene are abducted and kept on a deserted island. With all past memories erased, they are left to fend for themselves using only their immediate reflexes.
I'm not really sure why or how, but something rather important seems to have gone missing between this film's original 2004 Japan release and its April 2006 release to Western audiences. But more on that in a minute.
This is the third and most recent film by director Onuma Yuuichi. In 2003 Onuma directed Jisatsu Manual 2 (Suicide Manual 2), also a youth slasher and sequel to Jisatsu Manual (2003) on which he served as Assistant Director under director Horie Kei, who the following year wrote and directed both Shibuya Kaidan and Shibuya Kaidan 2 (aka The Locker 1 & 2).
In Kill Oni Gokko (the film we are reviewing here) Onuma follows similar lines to those established in Jisatsu Manual 1 & 2. Whereas these earlier films attempted to explore/explain the phenomena of group suicide through the introduction of haunting spirits possessing their victims, the current film attempts to use modern genetic theory to explain why some people come to the point of committing murder. Thus in characteristically over-hyped Japanese pseudo-science babble, we are told that by the year 2025 (a) the entire genome of human DNA has been decoded; (b) the specific genetic sequence for destructive violence has been identified; and (c) population-wide testing has been conducted for the killer gene.
This film then serves as an observation of a series of high-tech experiments on youth who have been found to have the gene. And since everyone in this rat's maze has this gene, the scientists have theorized that they can set off a chain reaction which will spread in one massive wave of murderous rampage across the small deserted island on which they are located. This theory accounts for the film's original Japanese name "Kill Oni Gokko" (キル・鬼ごっこ). "Oni" (鬼) of course, can be translated "devil" (or more commonly "demon") and so "Kill Oni" is indeed "Kill Devil", the English title given the film. However, "Oni Gokko" is an idiom referring to "playing tag", and so the implied meaning here is "Kill Tag" or "Murder Tag". And it is indeed a murderous game of tag which sweeps across the island and this narrative, as one subject's violence sets off another's and so on.
[PS: For those of you interested in Nihongo, notice here how this title contains all three Japanese writing systems, katakana (キル), kanji (鬼) and hiragana (ごっこ) respectively.]
Each subject remembers nothing of their past, but finds an electronic bracelet fastened to their wrist. The wristband shines green initially, but once they encounter the incontrollable impulse for violence -- and thereby become "it" in the metaphorical game of kill tag -- the bracelet shines red, no doubt signifying the major gushing of blood that will soon follow. Through these colors they learn to befriend or flee each other in what quickly turns out to be a Lord of the Flies frag match.
A great portion of the narratival tension revolves around whether the main character Shougo, played by Kuranuki Masahiro, will succumb to the scientists' "tag" (oni gokko) theory. His natural leadership abilities slowly emerge throughout the experiments, and his tenacious commitment to his new acquaintances quickly creates friendships strong enough to bend some of the scientists' presupposed rules. With the forests filled with roaming bands of murderous youth and hidden science facilities dedicated to flipping their murderous genetic switch, Shougo and his allies quickly realize their only chance of survival and sanity is to get off the deserted island they find themselves on.
Okay. Not a bad story. And the soundtrack ROCKS.
Unfortunately, however, this is all too quickly deemed a Battle Royale (2000) copy, due to its use of "youth abducted and brought to an island in order to kill each other". And indeed, both these films share this similarity. But looking beyond the "island" aspect, there is in fact very little else in common. As I mentioned earlier, the film's modus operandi is to explore young people's struggle against their "fate". And by "fate", this film clearly means sheer scientific and societal condemnation of a sub-population deemed violence-prone. Also mentioned earlier was the fact that this film's emphasis upon the natural emergence of violent inclinations conjurs strong images of Lord of the Flies. But perhaps the most vivid recollections were of Shudan Satsujin Kurabu (2003), right down to dismemberment by gas-powered garden tools!
And I guess here is a good place to talk about the "missing pieces" of this movie.
For one thing, the Western release seems to completely edit out all of the "gore" scenes upon which the film was originally promoted. However, since certain critical scenes involve backdrops containing the carnage aftermath, the Western release keeps them. For a simple (non-spoiler) example, consider Shougo's first encounter with the island's violent forces.
According to the Western release, he peeks over a small ridge and sees a discarded, static-playing radio next to a decapitated girl who is suddenly attacked by a scythe wielding maniac as he stabs the blade through her chest. Let's call this version C. Now, if you watch the trailers on the DVD (which the distributors likely could not / would not edit), you'll notice that when Shougo peeks over the ridge, the girl is listening to the radio, alive and still enjoying her head (!!). Let's call this version A. Now if you look further at the film's original Japanese trailers, you'll see a horned demon in a girl's school uniform eating bloody flesh at the same exact location. Let's call this version WTF.
Not only do edits such as that between versions A and C, which remove all graphic depiction of violence, permeate this film, BUT the "horned demon in a girl's school uniform eating bloody flesh" is COMPLETELY REMOVED FROM THE FILM, despite the fact that she appears prominently on the Japanese version's promotional posters and cover graphics. She does appear during the closing credits where moronic editors and/or distributors could not legally cut her out (without cutting some of the credited names out).
Had the (utter) shmucks in charge kept those (clearly B-grade) schlock gore elements and the horned high school girl, this film would easily approach indisputable camp status. But what you get is a stripped down narrative wherein no ghoulies and no fringe gore takes place. And thus what you are left with is the impression that this film is simply about youth abducted and brought to an island in order to kill each other
What a colossal bumbling of this film's distribution and what a disappointment to otherwise eager fans such as you and I.
And finally, you'll no doubt hear about this film's "alternative ending" which DOES (miraculously enough) appear on the DVD. There's no spoiler warning here, so I'll discuss it. The "alternative" ending is comprised of a huge, post-narrative, contemporary dance scene involving all of the film's younger actors. From what I've heard, many Western viewers prefer this dance-routine finale to the original. And I have a feeling this constituted the original ending, but was edited out (along with a lot of other stuff) by chop happy editors mentioned above. In any event, the reason for the alternative dance ending is due to the fact that four cast members belong to an up and coming (??) male dance group entitled Diamond Dogs. You can often see Diamond Dogs performing as backups for important solo talent, including appearances on the annual Mega-Musical Kouhaku Uta Gessen.
This is the only film in which all the group's members appear together. For two -- the two who get killed off without lines -- this is their "film" debut. Thus the notion of a film-related "dance video" was undoubtedly part of the contract. As to whether or not you feel the dance video somehow makes a good finale to this film, YOU ARE THE JUDGE. (Just please don't tell me about it.)
Version reviewed: MAJORLY REDACTED Region 1 DVD with IRREMOVABLE English subtitles. (version WTF) Available via all indiscriminate mainstream venues.
|Not quite the knock-off it seems. I'm hoping grand things come from director Onuma in the future||Relative to what this film was intended to be, this Western release scores a meager one red skull. (And that's DEFINITELY NOT a good thing.)||NADA!! But, you gotta admit, that red lipstick and yellow raincoat has a certain "aura" right?||Here's two green skulls, one to salute the (stupidly) decapitated creativity we get in this Western release, and another skull to serve as a memorial for the film this once was.|