Tokyo Gore School (Cert 18)
1 Disc (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 105 minutes
High school student Fujiwara (Yusuke Yamada) has it all – good looks, good grades, sporty and is well respected by students and teachers alike. However his dark side and personal philosophy of only the strong survive sees him bullying weaker kids in what appears to be a widespread problem in Japanese schools. After the near suicide of one bullying victim Fujiwara finds himself a target of other school kids, learning that he is now part of a game in which school kids fight each other for their mobile phones. The prize at stake: to keep their deepest darkest secrets from being revealed to the world.
The first thing that needs to be addressed is the misleading title given to this English release. There is nothing gory about this film at all. There some scenes of brutality and excessive bloody violence but no severed limbs or projectile internal organs. The film’s original Japanese title Gakkô ura saito translates roughly to “Clandestine School Sites” referring to the many underground bullying websites that have arisen recently in the Land of the Rising Sun. As the film progresses this becomes more apparent making this shameless and arguably redundant attempt to cash in the success (or notoriety) of such recent splatter movies as Tokyo Gore Police all the more baffling. Indeed director Yôhei Fukuda is no stranger to the genre as he gave us the sexy zombie slice and dice fest that was Chanbara Beauty and the now infamous and banned in the UK Grotesque.
Whilst the violence is high in this film there is more of a sense of social commentary on an increasing troubling problem in Japan. Immediate similarities between this and the classic Battle Royale are bound to be made but are rather tenuous outside of school kids fighting each other. Whereas in Battle Royale the kids were forced to fight for their lives, here they are simply fighting to save face. Via their mobile phones the kids can see if their details have been added to an underground website. Once their profile has been included there are considered fair game. For every person who is defeated their secret is revealed and the winner earns points which can either be exchanged for cash or to delete parts of their profile. Since this is the younger generation we are dealing with here, the secrets are remarkably petty albeit still embarrassing – such as one lad who wet himself up until his teenage years and another who is less than impressive in the trouser department.
Our main man Fujiwara – it’s not appropriate to call him the hero – seems to have a major secret he wants kept hidden – involving a girl named Yoko – and thus goes to great lengths to ensure his profile is completely deleted. Along the way Fujiwara meets Chiori Kinoshita (Nako Mizausawa) a girl who just happens to resemble the late Yoko that Fujiwara saves from a stalker and a group of weaker kids – the “quarry” – sticking together to survive, lead by Kamiya (Shinwa Kataoka) who is the son of the Education minister who introduced the School Justice Bill. Even with his shady side Fujiwara becomes the default hero against the vicious bully Todoroki (Shunya Shiraishi).
If one can put aside any misgivings or disappointment towards the misleading title and artwork there is quite an interesting and thought provoking story to be found here. Bullying has been an age old problem and with the continuing development of modern technology it has become as sophisticated as it has more vicious. Quite how beating each other up to stop the spreading of personal information is supposed to eradicate bullying is a mystery since it not only is propagating violence but ostensibly rewarding it too. And how exactly did the instigator of the game get this information in this place? These do not appear to be questions of primary concern for this film. But what it does do is hold a mirror up to contemporary society and evening its exaggerated fashion should rattle a few cages and tweak at least one conscience.
Production wise this is fairly low budget stuff as one can imagine. The camerawork especially during the chase sequences and fight scenes is often quite shoddy and uneven and way too frenetic. What the fight scenes lack in flair and intensity they compensate for in energy and enthusiasm and the attempts at pseudo-parkour style acrobatics for the chase scenes are earnest at best. The overuse of post-production effects adds nothing to the quality other than someone apparently running through the gamut of new filters on their editing software. As the cast is made up of former J-Pop stars and budding TV actors don’t look for any break out performances here to make you sympathise with or relate to the characters in any way which should have been a key objective of the director.
Tokyo Gore School may not look like much and will probably be sought out by cult movie fans drawn in by the deceptive title and artwork as well as curious fans of Battle Royale. However it manages to keep the viewer’s attention for its 107 minute duration and has a certain ambitious charm about it which should at least ensure it rises above the status of shlock horror oddity.
Ratings – Main feature ***/5
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