Each and every one of us carries a uniquely personal group of hidden weaknesses and secret desires almost ensuring that, when something or someone comes along that caters to enough of them in big enough doses, we have no choice but to become weak in the knees and fall down before it (or them) in awe. So much of life is this way, I have found; only the packaging changes.
When said treasure trove of stimulating stuff comes in the form of a new friend of the desired sex, we know we have found ourselves a potential lifelong mate. When it comes in the form of an enjoyable pastime that we can earn a living at, we know we have found the dream job that we hope we can work at until someone pulls our corpse out of the desk chair. Finally, and perhaps most relevantly to this article, when it comes in the form of a simple DVD that almost seems to knowingly pander to our all of our darkest, most devious entertainment obsessions, (laughing as it does) we know we have found a film that is the right kind of wrong, and for me personally, that movie is STRIP MAHJONG: BATTLE ROYALE.
First let me offer a quick personal aside, but one that is relevant. I have been a fan of Mahjong ever since I played the M.A.M.E. (Multi-Arcade-Machine-Emulator) program back in college. This program featured hundreds of Japanese Strip Mahjong games where the object is to systematically disrobe your female opponent. Through online tutorials (and much trial and error) I actually learned how to not only play, but play well enough to beat them, even though I don’t read or speak a lick of Japanese (This was perhaps my proudest lifetime video gaming accomplishment since finishing Leisure Suit Larry as a young lad). Second, I am a huge fan of “Games of Death” films. While people assume I have a huge porn collection (which is a gross underestimation in every possible sense of the phrase), I have to admit that my favorite sub-genre of films in the world are actually something I like to call “Human Chess” where some rich (psycho/ government/media mogul) kidnaps innocent people, and forces them to play various games for their very lives. From THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) to THE HUNGER GAMES (2012) I collect every possible version of such a film and among them, I consider “BATTLE ROYALE” to be the all-time fave (reviewed by Head Cheeze here) . Finally, as of late, I have been getting more and more into “pink cinema”. While I don’t have an Asian fetish (except for certain action figure collectibles made by Daiki Kougyou and C Works Diva) reviewing of all those “Roman Porno” flicks from Nikkatsu has taught me a new meaning of “Eastern influence”. Filled with illogical plots, culture shock moments, and insane sexual situations that are bizarre beyond the usual cruel contrivances inherent in exploitation, these have quickly become the wasabi of my spice rack of international erotic films. Even without a single full frontal moment, they are a visual whirlwind of violence, sex, and extreme, often unreasonable consequence, that dares to torment the viewer in appalling but always exciting ways, stabbing them in the heart like a samurai meanwhile tittering playfully like as Asian schoolgirl as it does so.
As for the film STRIP MAHJONG: BATTLE ROYALE, the premise borrows equally from three things I have grown to love. The premise here is that, apparently, if you are a hot Asian woman, and start owing the wrong people too much money playing online strip Mah-jong, the shadowy underworld figures abduct you, force you to play mahjong with three other women in a winner takes all webcam broadcast where you first lose your clothes, then your darkest secrets, and then your life, courtesy of a remotely activated death collar you wear around your neck (reminiscent of those used in the original BATTLE ROYALE only this collar shocks its victims to death instead of blowing their head off).
If the premise of this film was simply as described, I would have to be the most misogynistic bastard in the world for liking it and daring to sing its praises here. Thankfully, much as in the case of all Pink Cinema, you have to allow for an insane allotment of fetishism and foolishness. For example there are two hosts to the show Mc (Mac) Kato and the comely young RanRan Tachibana, each of whom add a layer of psychotic mischief to the mix that may admittedly not be up to the level of “Jigsaw’s” designs as a bloodthirsty host, but are a hell of a lot more fun. Kato the Host is absolutely a renaissance man of evil “game masters” and by that, I mean, he covers all bases; fills all possible “big boss” roles that a film like this needs one some level even if he is obviously a dangerous schizophrenic. Sometimes Kato seems like an almost reluctant; philosophical torture master, contemplating openly about the sad cruelty of the game, while other times he is a stern but dispassionate distributor of ultimate justice. There are other times still where he comes off as a giggling, petulant child, groping the girls after they lose their clothes; oftentimes manhandling them during play to distract them unfairly and make them lose sooner. During the exact moment where the female players lose their bras, crazy pachinko parlor music suddenly blares, and the screen graphic lets us know it is “lingerie time”. It is then that Kato actually uses a juvenile prop to disrobe them (be it a fishing pole, an inflating balloon, or a pair of plastic robot arms). Did I mention he dances while he strips the women, giggling insanely like a child playing a game of skill at a carnival? A particularly insane moment for me was when he “stripped” a certain girl’s eyeglasses away after she lost a round making it difficult for her to read her game tiles on all future rounds. “Viewers” of this webcast could actually buy her eyeglasses along with the rest of her clothes as crude souvenirs (I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or go online and try and bid on them).
Of course as zany as Mac Kato was, he seemed sane when compared to the crazy antics offered by his co-hostess, Ranran Tachibana. An otherwise pretty girl with an ever-present jack-o-lantern smile and the unblinking eyes of madness, Ranran first co-hosts the game and provides giddy color commentary about the player’s strategies and their impending fates with the trademark sing-song voice of a child. Then, just as a slot on the table opens up, she actually joins the game (for no apparent reason), risking her own life to do so, playing with almost an autistic savant level of Mahjong mastery, and giggling happily in the moments following a match whether she won the set or was forced to strip after a loss!?! While not the most attractive girl in the game, the mere fact she acted exactly like a cross between “Flo” the Progressive Insurance lady and the ambivalent; effervescent girl in the “instructional video” from the original BATTLE ROYALE film, made her an unforgettable avatar of bad sportsmanship, incredible showmanship, and madness incarnate.
Some talk should be made of the game itself. Though much of the production budget was largely spent on a $5,000 “AMOS PREASURE” (seriously, that is the REAL LIFE name of the model) automatic shuffling Mahjong table, the onscreen game graphics where the various players pictures, identities, and personalities were displayed reminded me of the “player select” screens from those old Japanese adult Mahjong coin operated games I spoke of earlier; amusements which were never legitimately seen in an American arcade. Because I actually know how to play Mahjong, I found the scenes of play to be dramatic; perhaps more darkly suggestive than the scenes of actual stripping themselves, as I could tell what was going to happen before it did. The background music during the rounds was dramatic, the exact slow moody chords of a typical reality game theme from any American network reality show which only made the “Mexican Game Show” environment that erupted every time a new girl lost all the more lewd, loud, and incredibly lascivious by stark contrast.
I really liked Strip Mahjong: Battle Royale. Dare I say it’s the only movie I’ve reviewed in recent memory that’s actually “aroused me” both as a cult film reviewer and as a man. Horror movie lovers (especially those who lean toward the Tokyo Shock variety of Japanese horror) should know that the scenes of violence, torture, and death are largely unrealistic, bloodless, and bordering on the cartoonish. Yet for me, this somehow made it better for being so, making it a softer film that will appeal to a wider audience (that is, an audience that doesn’t mind scenes of women being forced to act out various sexual fetishes before their imminent death). Also, I have to admit that this film is more enjoyable if you are one of the ten people in this country who actually knows how to play actual tournament Mahjong (and not the bastardized “solitaire” tile matching game which is often played in this country using Mahjong tiles). Admittedly, I can only imagine how unspeakably hotter and more accessible this would have been to most American audiences if they would have played Texas Hold ’em instead, and had a retinue of beautiful female poker champions conscripted from all corners of the globe, playing (DOA) style in a worldwide tournament of T+A. Yet it is my assumption that only the Japanese could create a film where losing a simple table game could lead to a bombastic “TAKESHI’S CASTLE” style game show demise and have it be absurd enough to be enjoyable.
So whether you want to see a fetish film with cheesy horror overtones, a black comedy, or just a weird little flick that finally made this hardened sleaze reviewer actually “turn Japanese” for the first time in hundreds of films, this take on Mahjong gone wrong will tug at your male sensibilities (if not your “scoring stick”).
Extras include many trailers.
Special thanks to Danger after Dark for the advance copy.