Goth – Love Of Death
Japan (2008) Dir. Gen Takahashi
If the title of this low budget mystery drama suggests to you miserable doom laden, pale faced teens with dyed jet black hair, thick eye liner, baggy black clothing and dubious taste in music then this isn’t the film for you. There is a death obsessed teen girl but not for the obvious reason while the other affectations are nowhere to be found.
A serial killer is on the loose in Tokyo, killing young women, cutting off their left hands then leaving their bodies in public in artistic poses. Loner schoolgirl Yoru Morino (Rin Takanashi) is one intrigued witness at the discovery of the latest victim in a public park, while, studious classmate Itsuki Kamiyama (Kanata Hongo) learns of the story in the news and is equally fascinated.
They realise one day they have a shared interest in death, cruelty and serial killers and begin a joint investigation into the current murderer’s activities. Having found what they think is the killer’s notebook in a niche café Kamiyama and Morino hope to track him down with a view of finding him before the police do – but not to capture him but to witness and appreciate his artistic work in person.
Ignore the “Arthouse Meets Grindhouse” legend on the DVD cover, Goth never rises to the giddy heights of either genre. It’s based on the bestselling novel Goth: risutokatto jiken by the mononymous Otsuichi, which has already spawned a manga adaptation. Originally split into six short stories, director Gen Takahashi and co-writer Michio Kashiwada’s adapted screenplay appears to have cherry picked elements from some of these individual chapters.
Evidence of this comes in the clumsy way it saunters from one situation to another, held together by the barest of threads, often with little rhyme or reason but never with any real conviction that it is important. In fact, this is a major problem with the whole film, in that it is a halfhearted effort, lacking in urgency and enthusiasm from the characters who practically sleepwalk through the whole thing. If they can’t be bothered why should the audience?
To be fair Kamiyama and Morino do share a morbid amour fou so we shouldn’t expect them to be perky and effervescent, but the lack of energy they display engenders ennui within the audience, not good for what is a promising premise. While their interest in death is mutual, the approaches are different – Morino is interested in death itself and the frailties of mortality while Kamiyama’s hook is the mind and motives of killers.
In what is a risible delineation of this, Morino’s bedroom resembles a gothic chamber, decorated entirely in black, with candles, skulls and other related ephemera on display and veil nets over her spacious bed, just in case her saturnine demeanour and Sadako like long black hair didn’t offer enough clues. Kamiyama is from middle classed stock, so he hides his collection of books, weapons and memorabilia behind a sliding panel to stop his mother and little sister discovering his ghoulish secret.
Morino’s past, which she gradual reveals to Kamiyama, holds the key to her fascination with shuffling off the mortal coil, recounting stories of childhood games where she and her older sister would pretend to hang themselves, like you do. Predictably, this went wrong once and now Morino is an only child. She also hates dogs for some unexplained reason; as a dog owner I don’t feel comfortable divulging what she does to them.
We mustn’t forget the artistic serial killer in all of this but sadly the script does just that, with three high profile murders occurring and, thanks to the notebook Morino found in the café, a fourth is imminent. It doesn’t take a genius to work out who the killer is even though efforts are made to cast doubt over this as the patrons of the café are a curious bunch.
As much as this film lacks the vigour usually beholden to the mystery and (implied) horror genre, there is a palpable absence of drama too. At no point during the first two acts do our teenage leads find themselves in any real impending danger to put them off pursuing the killer’s plan of action. He is aware that he has lost his notebook but does nothing to get it back; even when he confronts Kamiyama in the final act, he is as laid back and barely bothered by this crucial possession going missing.
There is a twist to wrap things up in the denouement but by this point it is hard to care as neither Kamiyama nor Morino have shown or done anything to make us feel anything towards them. Aesthetically they might hold some interest because of their looks but even with the unique obsession that drives them, their personalities are non-existent. The sluggish pace and dormant atmosphere is equally to blame and the sparse use of music doesn’t so much create a mood as expose the lack of one.
Even at 96 minutes long, the story feels incomplete, the ending rushed and the whole thing a moribund drag. On the positive side – and I’m struggling here – there is some inventive camerawork and few evocative tableaux to behold, whilst leading lady Rin Takanashi – mostly known for Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone In Love – attempts some nuance in bringing out the gloomy side of Morino’s anti-social persona.
Perhaps this is another instance where being familiar with the source material is a prerequisite when watching this film, as there just seemed to be insufficient information to become engaged in the story and with the characters. It’s to glacial in pace to stave off boredom, crying out for something shocking and visceral to happen.
I am certain Goth- Love Of Death will find its appreciative audience elsewhere, maybe the more patient who are willing to forgive the paucity of drama, shocks and tangible substance given the enticing premise. This was more “Sloth” than “Goth” for me I’m afraid.