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Ben Austwick [Film Festival 09.01.09] Japan movie review horror action comedy

Year: 2009
Directors: Yoshihiro Nishimura & Naoyuki Tomomatsu
Writers: Naoyuki Tomomatsu & Shungiku Uchida (manga)
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Ben Austwick
Rating: 10 out of 10

I have to confess to being a Yoshihiro Nishimura virgin, having missed Tokyo Gore Police, and furthermore haven't seen any other contemporary Japanese exploitation splatter - films like Noburo Iguchi's Machine Girl - of the genre he is associated with. So forgive me if I start to gush about this beautiful, crazy film that hit me round the head like a hammer made out of LSD, as it was something quite new to me, and I think it represents something quite new and exciting for horror cinema.

A high school soap opera set up has the class heart-throb Mizushima, good looking but familiarly bland and wet - it's the girls who run this film - caught between the attentions of class bully Keiko, a spoilt Gothic Lolita Harajuku girl who abuses her position as the vice principle's daughter, and quiet but pretty new girl Monami, who just happens to be a vampire. Alongside them in the classroom are members of bizarre, exaggerated youth cults - a team of girls hacking at their wrists in practice for the Annual High School Wrist Cutting Championships, chanting team slogans that include the line "Show me more attention!"; and even more controversially a brave send-up of the ganguro youth culture that led quite a few members of the Frightfest audience - not a film viewing public known for their sensitivity - to walk out of the screening. It's worth saying a bit more about this.

The Japanese ganguro – translated as “black face” - youth subculture involves the use of tanning products to create overly-darkened, unnatural orange or brown skin set-off by brightly coloured clothing and accessories. In Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl the ganguros go further, their faces grotesque parodies of African features with Afro wigs, black make-up and prosthetics, for example giant lips and noses and in one ganguro girl, a plate through the lips. When we are first presented with these characters context-free in the classroom the immediate reaction is one of outraged confusion; however later in the film, as the ganguros enthuse about the black race being “the coolest race” as they quote Barack Obama and practice athletics, it becomes quite obvious that Nishimura and co-director Tomamatsu are sending up the wrong-headedness and surface-deep obsessions of extreme Japanese youth culture, not to mention the lack of identity amongst Japanese youth. It is a shame that this was lost on so much of the audience, and a sign of how controversial the film may be in the west.

The wrist-cutters and the ganguros are in possession of superhuman abilities – super-strong wrists in the case of the wrist-cutters, and super-powerful legs in the athletics-obsessed ganguros - and their body parts are used by Keiko to undergo a Frankenstein transformation in order to defeat love-rival Monami, who seemed to have roundly finished her off with her vampire powers earlier in the film. The battle between them is a riot of over-the-top action and ridiculous splatter scenes whose only precedent I can think of is the “Salad Days” Month Python sketch. A dizzying mixture of techniques is used, from CGI and crude stop-motion to highly choreographed slow-motion scenes, often played out in a fine spray of fuschia-coloured blood in keeping with the gaudy psychedelia of the film. These scenes are relentless and fill most of the film, running the risk of overkill - which they sometimes do. The film's finale though plays on the classic Japanese monster movie as Keiko's body parts are upgraded further in the only logical direction such an illogical film can take, managing to go the extra step needed in an action-packed boss battle at the top of the Tokyo Tower.

Its look is more video game than horror film, the montaged special effects and bright colours reminding me of Capcom's Viewtiful Joe, a game that plundered Japanese pop culture from the 1960s onward to make a kitsch but super-hardcore twitch classic. Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl's relentlessness and refusal to hold your hand through its shocking content is in some ways part of the same thing, an inversion of the usual lazy safety that kitsch post-modernism represents. Just think what a kitsch film called Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl would entail if it were made in the UK or the US – an ironic plod through Hammer and Rocky Horror with a cast of Goth girls and a turgid rock soundtrack – and compare it to this, viciously sending up present day culture rather than the safe targets of the past, taking day-glo rather than black as its default palate, and even managing to make vampirism sexy again for the first time since the nineteen-eighties, mainly by completely exorcising the Gothic posturing that has become synonymous with the subject.

I don't give a score of ten out of ten lightly but this film is unlike anything else I've ever seen. Compared to its western gore-comedy counterparts, stuck in a rut of nineteen-seventies Video Nasty parody, it is a huge breath of fresh air. Though expertly made it isn't without flaws, but they are so irrelevant in the face of its overriding hilarious, shocking sense of fun they just don't figure. This is the sort of cinema that really raises the bar, and western film makers would do well to take note.

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rickmcgrath (12 years ago) Reply

Cool, Ben... I'm glad you finally found a film at Frightfest worth enthusing about! I'll be sure to try and see it...


Ben Austwick (12 years ago) Reply

Heh, there's a few more good ones to come!


jess (12 years ago) Reply

great movie, a million laughs :)

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