I have to admit to being somewhat surprised at receiving a 12-certificate movie to review for Unrated. However, this film is certainly uncut and it is nice to step back for a bit of light relief from all that sex and violence once in a while. BATTLE HEATER is certainly an oddity from George (aka Jôji) Iida, a director who is more used to chilling us with ghostly frighteners such as RASEN (aka, THE SPIRAL) and violent potboilers like ANOTHER HEAVEN. BATTLE HEATER marked his directorial debut and harks back to 1990. Initial viewing reveals that this fledgling director was experimenting with ideas (and certainly with effects) before moving onto bigger and better things. Not that I am dismissing BATTLE HEATER in the slightest, as I found it a thoroughly enjoyable romp containing some of the best comedic slapstick that I have personally seen in a horror film since ARMY OF DARKNESS.
Before we continue it is imperative to explain what a ‘kotatsu’ is, as this is integral to the actual story and constitutes the BATTLE HEATER of the title. Imagine, if you will, a little coffee table with an electric heater underneath. A quilted cover is placed over the top, and the lower part of a person’s body under, in order to bask in its warm glow. The kotatsu is an integral part of Japanese domestic life due to group oriented culture and lack of central heating in many Japanese homes. Unfortunately, the one in this film differs from those found in most domiciles as it is a) possessed, and, b) has a penchant for eating people. Apparently a kotatsu is, “not just a piece of furniture, it’s a lifesaver”. Well not in this bloody case!
As you would expect of an Eastern Cult Cinema comedy, every character in this film is as mad as a hatter. We are introduced to Furuchi, (played by Pappara Kawai, the lead guitarist of Japanese band, Bakufu Slump), who spends his days roaming around junkyards on salvage missions, with boss Hama (Akira Emoto), a man possessing an electrifying presence in more ways than one. To say he likes to shock his employee at regular intervals would be an understatement. Finding the kotatsu signifies impending doom and this is heralded by the appearance of a mad monk, who seems to have escaped from MONTY PYTHON land. Furuchi takes his kotasu to an apartment block comprised of tenants who resemble a mixture of characters from RISING DAMP and THE YOUNG ONES. We are introduced to this lunatic ensemble that includes a couple who have never harmed anybody in their life and are preparing to shuffle off this mortal coil, adulterous lovers who are trying to dispose of the top half of the woman’s murdered husband (as for the bottom half, don’t ask), and the rock band from hell.
Furichi and the band’s paths are entwined, as they are his noisy next-door neighbours (played by the rest of Bakufu Stump) who take great delight in bullying the buffoon. This is all done with the panache of the THREE STOOGES and is spurred on by unfortunate accidents with DIY tools. Faruchi also finds himself used as a stool pigeon by the lead singer of the band who attempts to seduce Farachi’s childhood sweetheart. Whilst all this is going on the kotatsu has been juicing itself up to the buildings power supply and preparing itself for the inevitable killing spree. A visiting funeral director is a suitable aperitif and his demise sets the bloodless tone for the movie. One thing that has been noticeable is the incidental music used in the film; it would appear as though Iida has been brushing up on British 70s sitcoms and movies for several comedic moments accompanied by hilarious instrumentation that is straight out of the CARRY ON stable.
Alas, the band’s sound isn’t so enjoyable. The atrocious music on display here must be deliberately so; for if Bakufu Slump were truly this bad they couldn’t possibly be so big in Japan (but then again…). There are torturous moments when they decide to burst into song and this is dealt with in a surreal way akin to THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS. But, unlike the heroic zombie-killing group in WILD ZERO, we are aware that when the BATTLE HEATER warms up, Bakufu Slump are one band ripe for the main course and when the event occurs the band are in full flow performing in front of a couple of hundred schoolgirls (calm yourself, this film carries a 12 rating) who have been misdirected to the building thinking they were going to a farewell party of their much loved teacher.
The final reel has the madness reminiscent of a Saturday morning movie matinee. You can practically hear the children screaming in the aisles as this rubbery B-Movie monster comes to life. There is no attempt at special effects and none are required as this film is not intended to be taken seriously: imagine a cross between marauding plants from THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and the beasties from THE DEADLY SPAWN. As for the power-surged finale, you really ought to watch the film for yourselves.
BATTLE HEATER, with its successful marriage of universal slapstick and Eastern mysticism, acts as suitable post pub viewing with friends and a 4-pack, or with the kids and a bowl of popcorn. Although there is little in the way of extras, the interview with director Iida is lengthy and informative, containing a good overview of his career.
Directed by George Iida (aka, Jôji Iida)
Japanese with English subtitles
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
An Artsmagic DVD Release