Made with the help of fellow students for $30,000, 24-year old Kazuyoshi Kumakiri directed KICHIKU DAI ENKAI as part of his graduating thesis for the Osaka Art College. Shot in 16-mm, with the generous addition of stock footage discovered in storerooms at his University dorm, Kumakiri’s gruesome study of the capitulation of relationships within a rebellious student faction shocked viewers at the prestigious Belinale film festival of 1988 for its uncompromising visuals relating to sex and violence.
Despite its pretension as an “art” film, KICHIKU has been unable to shake off its tag as “underground splatter” and has attracted various DVD releases from companies who, understandably, have played up the film’s gore quotient in their packaging with phrases such as “Violent, Brutal, [and] Shocking”. This detracts, somewhat, from KICHIKU’s staid message relating to Japan’s historical rebellions against extremist government that have often shown its revolutionaries as even more nihilistic than those they would overthrow: that uprisings spawned from hierarchical groups are, inevitably, open to infiltration by would-be dictatorships, and violence met with violence rarely achieves peace.
Set amongst the left wing student army uprisings of the 70s, KICHIKU introduces us to troubled radical sect member, Aikawa (Yuji Hashimoto) who, from his jail cell, informs fellow inmate Fujihara (Kentaro Ogiso) of the group; offering the chance for him to seek out Aikawa’s girlfriend, Masami (Sumiko Mikami), and join their community. Fujihara is surprised to discover that whilst her lover is serving time, she has usurped the leadership, and controls the weaker members around her with a will of steel and the promise of sexual relationships.
Following a particularly explicit, and un-erotic bout of sex with Masami, the most rebellious member of the group, Yamane (Tomohiro Zaizen), realises that both he and other members of the group are being drawn from their true ideals. When two other members narrowly escape a botched bank raid, resulting in the death of a police officer, a bitter row between the two lovers erupts. Two new recruits, Fujihara and Sugihara (Toshiyuki Sugihara), a quiet flatmate of fellow sect member Kumatani (Shigeru Bokuda) replace Yamane who finds himself expelled from the group.
Kumatani attacks Yamane, following Yamane’s plans to join another faction. Meanwhile, Masami and the gang members assemble an arsenal of weapons and celebrate their success with an “enkai” party, in which Masami wears a lion mask and makes love to Kumatani. It would appear that Masami’s new found power has unhinged her, and when the group learn that Aikawa has committed suicide in prison, it acts as a catalyst that sends her into a downward spiral of vengeance against Yamane, whom she makes scapegoat, resulting in the disintegration of group trust.
The gang kidnap Yamane and drive him to a forest; there they tie him to a tree trunk and viciously beat him. As uneasiness between rival henchmen ensues, other members find themselves at the mercy of an insane Masami, before the gang eventually realise that their new leader is insane and their instincts to survive tells them to kill eachother.
With its cynical view of rebelliousness, and thematic elements of failed group control, left wing rebellion, violence, and casual sex, KICHIKU resembles a surreal vision of Japanese politico-extremism similarly explored in Koji Wakamatsu’s ECSTASY OF THE ANGELS (1972). But, the film also appears to draw heavily from the cinema of Italian splatter master Ruggero Deodato, and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, (1980), in particular.
Both films share the same message; namely, that humans are essentially “brutes”, whose tendency to manipulate, and rule others with an overlying threat of enforced violence will inevitably lead to rebellion with equally dreaded methods. Like Deodato’s cannibal tribes, Kumakiri’s sect members find themselves on the receiving end of unprecedented acts of senseless violence, and enact terrible vengeance on the perpetrators. Both films use political messages as a framing device in order to exploit audience infatuation with violence. By removing its antagonists from a ‘concrete’ jungle and placing them in a wild environment they, too, revert to random acts of animalistic violence.
Like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, Kumakiri’s warring ’tribe’ suffer shooting, penis dismemberment, disembowelment, and decapitation, and violent sex. Stylistic similarities between the films include a tendency to linger hand-held cameras on the aftermath of gory torture, the employment of stock-footage, the use of disquieting sounds and music to heighten the explicitness onscreen, and an employment of wide lens photography to affect a mood of isolation from society. The fact that both films also share titles alluding to ’feasting savages’ is, likewise, no coincidence.
Featuring credible performances and competent gore make-ups for, what is in effect, a $30,000 student underground film project KICHIKU is an impressive if unoriginal slice of Japanese splatter. Artsmagic’s new 2-disc USA presentation contains all new interviews with cast and crew, along with the material previously included on the Dutch release from Japan Shock. The DVD like previous releases still contains an evident amount of grain, and the soundtrack is disarmingly out-of-synch with the films subtitles for much of the time. Nevertheless, the film is very much recommended for all Asian shock enthusiasts, and if you haven’t got the film already this new Artsmagic release is the one to go for. A second release will appear in the UK from Artsmagic on 16th October. Both releases are region free.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Kazuyoshi Kumakiri
Japanese language with optional English subtitles
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
"Making Of" Documentary (30 mins)
Artsmagic DVD Release
NTSC All Region / Full Screen 1.33:1 (Original Aspect Ratio) / Dolby Digital Stereo.
KICHIKU DAI ENKAI (Banquet of the Beasts)