Let me just say right out of the gate that Kichiku is a well done film. The direction and cinematography reflect the depths of filth and sleaze that the main characters reach throughout the story; the performances are strong all around and the tone created by all of those wonderful things is astounding. It’s also a pretty good short story adaptation. That being said this is hands down one of the most abrasive displays of child abuse put to film I have ever seen, and for that I hate it with the passion of a THOUSAND suns. All the people involved with these children’s lives are despicable, spineless and black hearted (mostly). Kichiku will go on to set the stage for “Mommie Dearest” and “Flowers in the Attic” two other infamous movies based on books about child abuse.
I’m not a father, but I am involved with my nieces and nephews and I can’t fathom the kind of mental process that thinks its o.k. to hurt children. In fact, writing this review was very hard for me because I had to watch the movie for a second time. I told myself I would rather have my prince albert ripped out buy rusty pliers before I would sit down and watch this trash again… turns out I was lying.
The film opens on a hot humid slum somewhere in Japan. A fuming woman sits fanning herself while her two sons and daughter play in the yard. Her name is Kikuyo, and from the expression on her face it’s clear she is in a rage inspired meditation. Suddenly, almost as if she’s snapped; grabs the children and boards a train into the city. Cut to Sokichi Tekeshita, working hard in the glorified shack that houses the remains of his once proud printing business. He and his wife Oume are having a hard time keeping up after a fire ravaged the company. Much to Sokichi’s chagrin Kikuyu shows up demanding more money to help take care of his offspring. As you can imagine, this is the first that Oume has herd about any of it. After relenting to Kikuyu’s request to stay at the house for a night Oume promises no more money, “not even a mosquito net”.
Then Kikuyu leaves in the middle of the night, abandoning her three children.
From this point on the emotional stress of a failing marriage and business drive the well meaning but weak willed Sokichi to worse and worse solutions to his problems. Kichiku is director Nomura commentary on a problem that, even today still lingers in Japan: child neglect and abandonment. It unabashedly shows the lengths some people would go and the actions some people will try to justify. I often wonder how such real and graphic portrayals of abuse could be staged, or if it was even staged at all. The youngest of the children (an infant mind you) looked genuinely traumatized in a couple of scenes. In a movie like this it’s important to have strong actors and deep characters to help humanize them and rationalize their actions, (otherwise they’d just be evil) and Kichiku gets an ace in both departments. Ken Ogata’s stellar Sokichi should be paid the most attention to. The performance is so multifaceted a diamond would be jealous. He’s clueless as a father and desperate as a husband and businessman. You see him try to do the right thing for the kids but he gets caught up in Oumes nefarious ideas. The worst part is that he seems to genuinely care about being a father, but being a bad, inconstant man he’s controlled by his wicked icy wife; Shima Iwashita’s cruel and unusual Oume. She redefines the phrase “frigid bitch”, fuming with all the rage of a woman scorned. Initially she’s just emotionally detached from the children, but it doesn’t take long to escalate into verbal abuse and finally full blown violence. She’s the mastermind behind most of the horrible things that happen to the kids - death from indigestion by force feedings, abandonment in a public place, and even arsenic poisoning. Although Oume does make a good point when she says that there’s no way to know for sure if the kids are even Sokichi’s. Keep this in mind, because even though we don’t see Kikuyu for the rest of the film her character still haunts the proceedings – the character of a red painted harlot. Later when Sokichi goes to her former home to negotiate he’s met by a stranger who says that Kikuyu moved out and ran off with some other guy. Every step closer he gets to her he finds that this is always the case: she’s with “some guy”. I took this to mean that the only child that was truly his was the oldest boy, Riichi.
This brings me to the point of this whole ghastly business. In its native Japan Kichiku is a sentiment that no matter how badly you’ve been treated by family the ties that bind you are strong enough to endure it. Even after Sokichi had dropped him off a cliff, even after the police already figure everything out, even after his brother and sister are killed at the hands of this man, Riichi denies he even he knows him, effectively dismissing any charges that could be filed. I think that’s the thing that bothered me the most about this film, in the end it just didn’t feel like justice was served.
Apart from the plot and performances Kichiku is very well directed with an almost Hitchcock feel towards the end. Nomura is a very prolific director and takes his style from many different places. The dark alleys, warm bawdy buildings and even a lushly Technicolor scene in a carnival are all part of the wonderful viewing experience Nomura has laid out for us. There’s not another film in print today that looks or feels quite like Kichiku.
As for extras, Home Vision dropped the ball, packing the DVD with fairly irrelevant extras. Included are filmographys for Nomura and Ogata, but these are largely unorganized with some movies appearing with their international title or the Japanese with no translation and include only the date of release, a trailer for the film, and a cheesy promo for Home Visions “Zatoichi” movie line.
In summation I guess I would recommend seriously thinking about it before you rent this one (and please rent it, don’t buy it blind like I did and have to lament the fact you can’t trade it in for squat anywhere). No matter what your opinion of child abuse is you will come away with a definite and permanent reaction to this movie. A lot of people write these kinds of films off as “mysteries” which I think is a disservice to its viewers. Horrible things happen within the two hours it takes to watch it, therefore it a horror film, with the most disgusting vile monster of all lighting up the marquee: human beings. Like the tagline says: They’d be better off with strangers, the more you watch the more true it becomes. Anyone could take better care of these kids than their actual parents. If anything, Kichiku makes you appreciate the doting, even borderline psychotic care that only parents who truly love you can provide.