(A.k.a. BANQUET OF THE BEASTS)
A small group of Japanese teenagers converge regularly in a run-down apartment, dedicating their time to their leftist political ideals.
Their leader is imprisoned for an undisclosed crime, but asks that the group take orders from his girlfriend in his absence.
Unfortunately, the girl - the only female member of the group - is not as focused as her beau and the group soon loses all sense of direction and purpose. For a time, the girl handles their growing unrest by sleeping with each boy and manipulating them with her sexual charms.
But the arrival of the boyfriend's cellmate and, more significantly the news of the boyfriend's suicide, spark a mini-revolt within the group.
Fearing an act of mutiny, the girl uses the manpower of her most loyal devotees to drag the two 'traitors' within camp into the nearby woods and teach them a lesson they'll never forget …
Based upon a series of student demonstrations that took place in Japan in the 70s and ended in bloody riots on the streets, KICHIKU is the stunning result of a college project from 1997. It's also one strange film to assess.
The first half of the film is relatively sedate. Beautifully shot and complemented by mannered, mature performances from it's young amateur cast, the film teeters at times on Arthouse territory.
Never dull, just leisurely, the first half of the film is however a lulling into a false sense of security - for the final fifty minutes will test the mettle of even the most hardened viewers.
Without wishing to give too much away, the last half of KICHIKU is wall-to-wall misanthropy and sadism of the highest order. The characters are all despicable without redemption, and the violence that erupts in the outdoor setting utterly unforgettable. So much so, that I would rate KICHIKU alongside the likes of SALO and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST as one of the most nihilistic films ever made. It's THAT good!
Definitely pulsating with anger and brutality, it would be unfair to write KICHIKU off as a mere exercise in shock theatrics. It is shocking, but there is so much more to enjoy here too.
The visuals in the film are stunning. Kiyoaki Hashimoto's photography is simply beautiful throughout, paradoxically transforming the ugliest, coldest locations into works of art.
The acting, as mentioned above, is excellent considering the film's student origins. No-one in the cast had appeared in front of the camera before. Full credit then to this youthful bunch for pulling off a uniform set of natural, convincing performances.
The FX work, though minimal, is bloody good for a film without any real budget to speak of too.
The star of the show though is Kazuyoshi Kumakiri's direction. It shows a maturity and restraint beyond his young years, that is until the shit hits the fan during the final act. But even this seems like a natural shift in what is a perfectly paced two-hour descent into Hell. Most impressive is the way Kumakiri intensifies the sense of claustrophobia at precisely the point the action shifts from a pokey apartment to the wide outdoors. Simple, but genius.
Artsmagic's R1 package is just as impressive, and does this modern classic the justice it deserves.
Disc 1 includes a nice sharp presentation of the main feature in it's original 4:3 full-frame ratio. Bright and colourful, this is by far the best film has ever looked.
The 5.1 audio mix makes little use of the rear speakers, but nevertheless does well with dissecting and remixing the original stereo track. Loud, consistent, meaty stuff - a job well done.
Removable English subtitles are white with black shadows, and therefore are easy to read at all times. Pleasingly, the translation is handled well and there were no glaring spelling errors to report.
A scene selection menu is the only 'extra' to speak of on Disc 1, offering access to the main feature via 12 chapters.
Over on disc two, Artsmagic have excelled with some great extras that offer a wealth of insight into this already engrossing proposition.
First up is a video introduction to the movie by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes. Surely this would have been better to suited to Disc 1? Either way, Mes speaks of the film's influences, it's micro-budget origins and the themes that run throughout it's pathological plot. Clocking in around the 20 minute mark, Mes offers an extremely worthy visual essay on the film. It's a shame Mes didn't provide a commentary for the film itself - his efforts on previous Artsmagic releases (BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY etc) have been most welcome.
MAKING OF KICHIKU is exactly what it sounds like - a generous documentary that provides a lot of on-set footage, revealing the often jovial nature of the shoot. For aspiring film-makers out there, it's a great expose on how to get things done on the cheap, while keeping morale up.
REACTION TO KICHIKU is a shorter featurette that alternates between video interview footage of people involved in the film's production, and actual clips from the movie itself.
The theatrical trailer keeps the best bits hidden from potential viewers - wisely so.
Best of all, are the newly recorded on-screen interviews with Kumakiri, Hashimoto, and cast members Tomohiko Zaizen, Shunsuke Sawada, Shigeku Bokuda and Kentaro Ogiso.
Kumakiri seems like a likeable if somewhat nervous chap. He tells us that the reason he made such an intensely violent film is due to the fact that his girlfriend dumped him not long before shooting started!
The cast members are more anecdotal about their time on the shoot, and what's infectious about their comments is that all concerned obviously had a whale of a time.
If you like your Japanese cinema then this one is sure to satisfy: beautiful photography; considered pacing; layer after layer of themes within it's deceptively simple story; quirky, disturbed characters; moments of jet black humour; and of course ultra-violence in abundance.
If you're not that enamoured by modern Japanese genre offerings, then give this a go anyway. It's much more accessible than a lot of the stuff the East has given us in recent years, and also a lot more violent.
Artsmagic's 2 disc set is brilliant. It's the best way to see this must-have movie. If for some reason, however, you can't get your hands on it there is an alternative - after months of deliberation the BBFC have passed the film uncut with an 18 rating, and Artsmagic have released the film on UK shores, albeit in a single disc format.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Artsmagic|
|NTSC Region 1|
|see main review|