| Directed by Kazuyoshi Kumakiri, 1997, 100 min., starring Sumiko Mikami, Shunsuke Sawada, Shigeru Bokuda, Toshiyuki Sugihara, Kentaro Ogisoas, Tomohiro Zaizen and Yuji Hashimoto.
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Made on the world's lowest budget by a first-time director and amateur actors, who were all still in college at the time and whose catering budget consisted of nicking trashed burgers out of bins round the back of the local fast food joint, Kichiku dai enkai (aka Banquet of the Beasts) represents two startling success stories right off the bat.
Firstly, it's a wonder that the film ever got made in the first place. With no money and initially sold to his 'cast' as a fun little project which just happened to turn into a year-long shoot funded, in part, by the somewhat annoyed friends and college kids he had drafted in as actors, somehow director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (who would later go on to direct Hole in the Sky aka Soro no ana) eventually managed to produce what is, for a self-funded student movie, a damn fine piece of work.
And that's the second success story: without the shadow of a doubt, Kumakiri also not only managed to produce what I personally believe to be the most hardcore-gore, sickening, stomach-turning, sadistic and downright extreme movie possibly of all time, but he even managed to imbue it with a strange sense of validity – something you just wouldn't even be looking for in, say, a Guinea Pig movie.
However - and in case you were feeling a bit put-off by the concept of a political movie, as I initially was - the politics are strictly a formality. In point of fact, it's never made entirely clear during the film what the radical group, who are the focus of the film, are even protesting or demanding! It's predominantly a gore flick, plain and simple, and the main body of the story is a mere pre-amble, building to what is an inevitable and very gruesome conclusion.
Considering that the amateur actors in question were just really a bunch of university students at the time, it's also surprising that their performances are engaging and quite accomplished. Sumiko Mikami, in particular, playing the demented and sluttish stand-in group leader Masami, is very convincing, portraying the character with just the right mix of amorality, lunacy and sullen confusion that the role requires. Equally, Tomohiro Zaizen as Yamane, the pivotal role on which pretty much the entire movie rests, is reasonably good too, lending the part an obnoxious mix of backstabbing cowardice, bullying and intimidation that does the character real justice.
That said, Kichiku dai enkai is, well, pretty grim to look at. And not just as a result of all the entrails flying around, either. There's not a great deal of music used, though whether that's due to budget constraints or in keeping with the style of the piece is anyone's guess: there's some limited use of taiko drums, organic sounds, and snippets of traditional music from time to time, and that's pretty much it.
As for the imagery, everything looks downright grubby and thoroughly realistic: grotty student digs filled with even grottier and seriously zitty and ugly students makes you wish that there wasn't quite so much sex in it. Also the composition and cinematography isn't of the best quality - but that doesn't really matter in a piece like this. If anything, again the camera being right in the faces of the cast adds a certain intensity and involvement on the part of the viewer, as if the viewer's face is being shoved right into the bad sex and brutality with no distance other than the camera lens between the audience and the participants, which gives it a hugely uncomfortable emotional tenet.
During one scene in particular, when a rebel member of the gang is being taken by car into the mountains to what would be his eventual torture and execution, the use of 'shakycam' and amateur techniques really does incite the viewer to feel as if they could be him, being transported to his death and provoking all the anticipatory dread and terror such a journey would inspire. There's absolutely no gloss or glitz about this production at all, and that extends to the performers, who really do look as if they actually belong to a mad radical gang in between attending lectures and tutorials.
This lack of glamour adds to the gritty, powerful vérité-style realism of the piece and makes it that much more effective than if the female gang leader had been plastered in leather and lip gloss. Stylistically Kichiku bears all the hallmarks of a student art film, or maybe a cheap music video - scratchy library-style sequences, fast cuts à la MTV, etc. The composition and cinematography isn't of the best quality - but that doesn't really matter in a piece like this. This approach might leaves the movie a bit lacking in visual interest, but conversely it renders Kichiku a uniquely intense, idiosyncratic, personal and thoroughly uncomfortable experience.
What your humble reviewer knows about Japanese politics you could write on the back of a postage stamp. However, according to an article published at nostalgia.com, during the timeframe in which Kichiku is set - approximately the late 1960's – there were a number of leftist, radical student protest movements springing up in Japan, advocating violence, revolution and militancy, owing to feelings of anti-Americanisation and anti-authoritarianism.
The charismatic head of one of these mad student political activist groups, Aizawa (Yuji Hashimoto), has been jailed, presumably for his militant activities. His girlfriend Masami (Sumiko Mikami) is now the boss of the group, standing in as his substitute. In the meanwhile, as he won't be released for another month, Aizawa orders a friend he made whilst in jail who has already been released, Fujiwara (Kentaro Ogisoas), to go and visit Masami and the gang.
During the opening sequence, it becomes fairly apparent that the political group in question is really full-on, participating even in violent, riotous demonstrations - no sitting down waving flowers for this lot, they're happier waving Molotov cocktails. However, one of my concerns for this movie is that we don't ever really find out what external politics the group are actually activists for (or against!) – Kichiku is more entrenched in the internal political struggles within the gang.
It also becomes fairly obvious quite quickly that Masami, as the stand-in leader, is controlling the members of the group using her sexuality – sleeping with Yamane and threatening to tell Aizawa if Yamane doesn't accede to her wishes. Initially she says it as a joke, but clearly the underlying threat is still there.
Already tensions are forming between the gang members. Yamane evidently believes that he should be in control, but Masami is well and truly in charge. It transpires later that Masami gave orders for Okazaki to rob the post office and carry out criminal acts to fund the group's activities, which Yamane neither sanctioned nor even knew about - putting him firmly in his place. Clearly this is going to breed resentment, jealousy and rage between the group members.
After being shown up by Masami, Yamane is in the mood to take out his anger and humiliation on the entire gang, picking on first Okazaki and then Sugihara and Kumagaya in turn, shouting at them and daring them to either rebel against him or join up with him against the absentee leader Aizawa.But just as he's about to knock seven shades of poopoo out of Kumagaya, Masami steps in and exerts her power over Yamane, telling him to back off - which he does, with huge reluctance, because he realises that in fact, everyone other than himself is behind Aizawa, and, by extension, Masami - an even worse humiliation which prompts him to walk out on the gang in a giant huff.
After he's gone, however, Masami starts to turn her negative attention onto Kumagaya, telling him to keep his mouth shut about the affairs of the group, and comparing him with Yamane - not a favourable comparison, since she pretty much just hounded him out. Trouble is definitely brewing between all of them now. However, Fujiwara is on his way to see Masami: it turns out that he is now joining the group and that Aizawa sent him over. Masami already knew this, but the other gang members did not. To welcome the new member, the group holds an 'enkai-party' - Masami acting like an animal (the word enkai meaning 'beast' in Japanese) and wearing an oni mask, working herself up into a violent frenzy by dancing round like a nutter.
However, most of the group are enjoying the weird performance - except Fujiwara and, ostensibly, Kumagaya - which puts Masami off, and she stops dancing and orders Kumagaya out back to talk to him. It would seem that Kumagaya is also not happy about the way the group is being run: he says they have more important things to do than arse around dressed up in masks. Masami tries to quell the mutiny by using her sexuality, as she did with Yamane, to shut Kumagaya up - and for the time being, it works.
The next day, Kumagaya in conversation with Sugihara expounds a little more on the basis of the group: not only is Aizawa their nominal leader, he is also their philosophical leader, and the true heart of the gang. However, unbeknownst to them all, he is slowly going mad while stuck in jail, and commits seppuku by disembowelling himself with his shaving razor. This devastating news not only threatens to destroy the whole group, but naturally places Masami in a very bad position.
Will the members of the group turn on each other now their true leader is dead? Will they attack their substitute leader whose power and position has been undermined and weakened? And what of Yamane – will he come back and cause even more trouble and destruction?
Blood, brains and guts splattering everywhere (including onto the camera lens at times), madness, distressing degradation, sexual violence and repulsively bestial and amoral behaviour combine to produce some of the most unpleasant, crazed, disgusting, and downright disturbing scenes ever committed to film, so I can well understand why the BBFC raised an arch eyebrow on being presented with this rare gem by Artsmagic, particularly during the latter half of the movie. After all, this is a pure gorehound's dream, dressed up as a political movie.
Add to this the cinema-vérité style and the harsh, graphic and completely unemotional presentation of the scenes of killing and violence and you have what could be generously described as a rather difficult movie to watch. One small criticism though is that at an hour and three quarters, Kichiku is rather on the long side, and certainly the last half-hour does drag on a little. For my money, the last segment could have been better paced and cut down significantly, but it's only a very minor gripe in an otherwise well-timed film.
This is really a movie for people who don't want to have to think about complicated storylines too much - it's all pretty straightforward. That's not to say it's not a valid story, because I feel quite strongly that the narrative and characterisations have a rounded and serious quality that other splatter movies generally do not.
Startling, unique and unforgettable, Kichiku dai enkai is definitely not recommended for anyone with a dodgy stomach or a nervous disposition: it combines a simple but effective story with the most extreme and graphic brutality imaginable, and therefore succeeds as one of the most worthy and valid films in the whole Japanese gore genre, simply due to its scope and breadth of ambition.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Violence: a bazillion/10
Gore: Brains, guts, globs of goo in abundance/10
Sex: 0/10. Would have been 10, but the spotty bottoms get a 10-point deduction ;-)
Nutters in Unscary Masks: 1
Grotty Student Digs: what, are you all allergic to soap or something? ;-)
Buckets of Tomato Ketchup: all the bottles that have ever existed in the world, ever
Films in a Similar Style: the Guinea Pig series (kind of), Naked Blood (erm...)
*** Recommended! ***
This film is released by Artsmagic.
Kichiku dai enkai Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.
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Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2004
Snowblood Apple Filmographies
http://www.artsmagic.co.uk and http://www.artsmagicdvd.com/ - Kichiku dai enkai is available in Europe and the USAdirect from Artsmagic, who very kindly provided us with the screener copy used for this review. There's also a specific page for the movie here: http://www.artsmagicdvd.com/kichikudaienkai/
http://www.metamovie.de/film/kichiku.html - metamovie hated just three parts; the beginning, middle and the end...
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/kichikudaienkai.php - DVD Verdict wants to send it down too
http://www.emvg.net/reviews/kichiku.php - EMVG thought it was OK
http://www.cinemasie.com/fiche/video/6891/noscritiques.html - Cinemasie (in English, oddly) do a thorough review of Artsmagic's giant DVD package. Ahem. I said DVD!
http://www.mondo-digital.com/kichiku.html - Mondo Digital do a great review as usual, calling it a daring experiment, and bunging in some great pictures to boot.
http://www.midnighteye.com/interviews/kazuyoshi_kumakiri.shtml - Midnight Eye interview with Kazuyoshi Kumakiri
http://www.midnighteye.com/reviews/kichiku.shtml - Tom Mes, who did the commentary on the DVD, comes out with his own review.
http://www.phantasmagoriaonline.com/reviews/movies/kichiku.htm - very detailed review from Underland Online