It is a risky, all or nothing endeavor for any film company to put its studio name prominently on the title of a boxed set sampling of its wares. Doing so suggests a certain seal of approval if not at unwritten suggestion that a movie companies other offerings doesn’t vary much from those offered in such a representative sample whether by theme or quality. If such a boxed set is entertaining to a first time viewer, they may have just made a potential film customer for life, yet should it prove to be undesirable? Well, you know the rest. Brought to you by Danger After Dark, supplier of all manner of unwinnable “games of death” films from Japan played by twenty something troublemakers, this is the DANGER AFTER DARK COLLECTION a trio of films that they are bulk feeding to the movie buying public at a special price. Let us look at this collection and see if it is worth…collecting?
Suicide Club (2002)
For no apparent reason 54 Japanese Schoolgirls join hands and leap in front of a speeding subway train and are immediately ground into a fine red mist that washes across the faces of horrified passerby. Authorities everywhere ponder the only clue left behind, a long grotesque spool of flesh that appears to have been methodically cut from each of the young victims and cobbled together. While three detectives desperately search for some kind of rhyme or reason to this, the police receive an anonymous tip to a website which seems to be a type of cryptic scoreboard, which keeps track of recent suicides according to the sex of the victims. Perhaps most disturbingly, throughout the remainder of film this number seems to update as more suicides occur, before they even happen…
It is then soon after that Japan is hit with a wave of suicides, with no apparent common element or theme other than the roll of flesh left at the scene. Some leap to their deaths, others blow their brains out, still another woman nonchalantly slices her fingers off while she prepares dinner like so many meat pieces without even breaking stride or losing her simple smile. Police continue to agonize over the true origin of this “suicide club” even after one of them mysteriously ends his life after receiving a cryptic phone call.
Finally there is a break in the case, a young rock star named “Genesis” publically admits to the carnage and surrenders at once. While the introduction of an actual villain does help the film by assigning an explanation if not an actual cause for the all the disturbing carnage, in the end he proves to be merely a wacko who had as much to do with the “Suicide Club” as Charlie Manson ultimately did with The Beatles and the coming “Revolution” (race war). As is often always in the case of Japanese horror, the real secret behind the senseless graphic deaths orchestrated by the “suicide club” is something that is subtle, quiet, seemingly innocuous and once it is exposed to you, the viewer it will seem all the more unspeakably evil for it. I am not going to ruin it for you, because this film depends on the slow reveal of this very thing, but the exact force behind the “suicide club” could have been anything in a film such as this if it was sweet and saccharine enough. I personally would love to see an American version of this film where the the trend of teen suicide is caused by a cutesy boy band singing songs with evil subliminal lyrics. That would be incredibly creepy and work much better for our American culture than the catalyst actually used in this film.
I think I understood this movie better than most viewers, but truth be told there were long stretches of this that didn’t make any direct sense. If they would have tightened up the plot, explained the significance of the “Suicide Club” or at least made coherent clues of the plot developments and explained the ultimate reason behind the purpose of suicide (such as a form of profit somehow for bad evil people?) this could have been the ultimate horror fantasy tale of a dangerous media influence as told by Asian kids since Ringu. As it stands, it was above average.
Titled after an actual Japanese acronym for a 2-bedroom apartment with a Living-room, Dining-room, and Kitchen, 2LDK is the story of two aspiring actresses who share an apartment, a boyfriend and eventually, a complete all-encompassing homicidal hatred of the other. It starts out as much as tales of vengeance often do, two characters with vastly different personalities fighting over the same limited, common ground in a film (in this case a lavish Tokyo apartment). Truth is told the combatants couldn’t have been more equal or opposite as rivals which usually lends itself to a decent fight, Nozomi is an anal retentive, bookish, virgin who leads a quiet unassuming life and actually finds much the life of an aspiring actress to be unfulfilling and hollow. Rana, by contrast is a worldly, glamorous sexually precocious party girl who dresses in the finest fashion. We join their tense, unlikely friendship at the very start of the film when they have both been told that one of them will receive a role in the much coveted film “Yakusa Wives”. The hostility they feel for each other flows at a mere trickle at first as they passive aggressively use each other’s shampoo and items from the fridge but quickly rages into a torrent of blood as these two extremely proud and high strung young ladies engage in a duel to the death using a litany of any makeshift weapon they can find in the apartment to stab, shock or smash each other.
While the scenes of violence are adequate and the never-ending use of household items as makeshift weapons seems kind of “Tom+Jerry” the real joys of this film are the more understated moments of inner monologue where these two “ex-besties” still find new ways to hate each other throughout the duration of the film, even later as they are trying to kill each other. The beginning of the film is merely a casual dinner between the two women with the use of hidden voice over relaying their true “nasty” feelings about each other after every line of polite spoken dialogue and anyone who has ever felt that no two women can truly be friends, or that women can be more vicious, catty (and dangerous) than any men when they feud will really enjoy this, especially toward the end once they break out the samurai swords upon each other as a smashed display case, brings them into play. Imagine the film “SINGLE WHITE FEMALE” if filmed by Akira Kurosawa and you pretty much have a good idea how this thing plays out. At 70 minutes it plays fast but it could have easily been condensed into a 15 minute film and lost none of what made it good. The ending is a forgone conclusion as any cinematic story of two pretty models deciding which one of them is prettier by slowly, brutally, beating each other to death over the course of an hour but the black comedy of this film coupled with the snarky “TALES OF THE CRYPT” ending regarding the pursuit of hollow pride almost gives it the high minded message of a moral fable.
Moon Child (2003)
The final film of the set is nothing but a saga which can be best described as “GOODFELLAS” meets “TWILIGHT” with a dash of “THE MATRIX” thrown in for good measure. This is the life story of a young self-loathing, vampire named Kei and his close friendship with three young mortal men and one of their sisters. It takes place in an alternate future of 2014 after Japan’s financial collapse as many Japanese citizens are forced to move into mainland China and eke out a hardscrabble living in a crime infested ethnic ghetto known as “Mallepa” which means “melting pot” and refers to the many varied Asian groups who now live there. Kei and his gang actually thrive in such an environment and they fill their evenings by robbing other violent thugs and stealing their cash. The scenes of action violence while not high budget or thematically realistic are quite kinetic and fluid and the gunfights are shot in a familiar slow motion fashion that in 2013 has almost become a cliché. Still, the man who plays Kei is played by Hyde, a real life Japanese rock star of some renown who kind of looks like an Asian Brett Michaels. Admittedly he is a charismatic figure that most young female viewers will find as “swoon worthy” as Edward from TWILIGHT meanwhile the constant handgun violence and “wire fu” stunts that pervades this film will give their boyfriends something to watch as well. Of course no onscreen criminal enterprise goes well forever and it isn’t long before one of “Kei” mortal friends “Toshi” is shot dead by a rival gang, this is a particularly unsettling event as they have known each other for most of their adult lives as can be evidenced by the beginning of the film when “Toshi” as a young boy first discovered Kei in the street dying from sunlight exposure and they save each other’s lives soon thereafter. Also, during the fight Kei loses control and starts to feed on the killers of his friend which exposed his vampirism along with his true nature to Yi-Che, the young woman in this film who he truly loves. Now realizing that their relationship could never exist for them as vampire and human Kei flees in disgrace out of sheer embarrassment and the film moves a few years ahead (according the screen text). When the film resumes Kei is in prison begging for the death penalty as he no longer can tolerate living for an eternity he receives word from one of his friends that things aren’t so going so well back home anymore; the old gang is fractured, is actually literally at war with each other, Yi-Che is dying from a brain tumor and the streets are worse than ever. Though he has nothing left to live for and has only days to wait for his much coveted death sentence, Kei escapes from prison at once and goes back home to try and help the humans every truly loved as well as discovers the value if his own life, even as he willingly risks it for the sake of others, giving meaning to what he has always seen his own cursed immortality.
While its attempts at portraying classic vampirism motifs, realistic (non-slapstick) violence and a single overall statement at its conclusion admittedly fall short now and then, this is an incredibly elaborate film which is actually superior to TWILIGHT and similarly explores a love triangle between supernatural and non-supernatural beings and all the goofy existential problems of such a coupling. Also the issues raised about the real meaning of existence will stay with you long after the credits roll.
The AFTER DARK COMPLETE COLLECTION is a worthwhile sampling for this studio and it is actually out of print. I received it because I asked the nice studio people to “surprise me” when they asked me what I wanted next and as sometimes happens they sent me bits of whatever cinema scrap they had lying around the back room. For a stack of obscure Asian films I have admittedly never heard of before I was impressed by this, odds are you will be too and I hope a sequel box is in the works.
Special features include various “making of”, extras and photo galleries along with the unrated version of Suicide Club (as it should be). Also the set consists of actual DVD boxes with full color box art enclosed in a cardboard box. It sounds like a small thing but even major companies are reverting to mass packaging and putting two movies on every disk as part of an increasing trend toward cost cutting. Other than a few rough edges, this three film sampler is a complete joy.