(director/writer: Sion Sono; cinematographer: Sôhei Tanikawa; editor: Takayuki Masuda; music: Kenji Katoh; cast: Kippei Shiina (Joe Murata), Shinnosuke Mitsushima (Shin), Kyoko Hinami (Taeko), Michael Shen (voice of Mitsuko),  (Kamataki Eri (Mitsuko), Denden (Mitsuko’s father), Takato Yonemoto (Goto), Sei Matobu (Ami, Mitsuko’s sister), Brandon Win (Fukami), Reuben Uy (Jei), Halley Kim (Voice of Eiko); Runtime: 151; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Hiroshi Muto/English version-Timothy Cubbison; Netflix; 2019-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

“It’s an ultra-violent thriller about uniformed teenage school girls, a suicide pact, wannabe filmmakers, artistic creation turning evil, a conman and, of course, a serial killer.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The 57-year-old prolific Japanese poet and filmmaker Sion Sono (“Tokyo Tribe”/”Suicide Circle”), provocateur of Japanese cinema and master of schlocky films, has another disturbing mind-fucker crime/drama/horror picture (or whatever!) to roll out. It’s loosely based on a true story of the crimes of Futoshi Matsunaga, who received in 2002 a life sentence. This might not be Sono’s best but might be his most disturbing film (which is saying a lot). It’s an excessively ultra-violent thriller that features many of the following obsessions he’s usually associated with: uniformed teenage school girls, a suicide pact, lurking wannabe filmmakers, an artistic creation turning evil,a conman and, of course, a serial killer.This is Sono’s first film after returning to work from a heart attack in February of this year. Netflix has bankrolled the film and allowed the auteur a free pass to make it as disgusting and revolting as he wants, and he doesn’t disappoint his large international cult base who know what they are getting from a Sono film.

The middle-age charismatic sociopath conman Joe Murata (Kippei Shiina) fakes being a summa cum laude Harvard grad and working for the CIA to those he meets, and is suspected of being the on the loose infamous serial killer seen on the news. Somehow Murata gets to know a pair of girls: one is named Taeko (Kyooko Hinami), the angry damaged goods nihilist with blue-streaked hair; the other girl is the rich, over-protected by daddy, virgin, Mitsuko (Eri Kamataki). The girls went to school together. In a flashback, we observe that the girls knew Eiko (voiced by Halley Kim), who played Romeo in the tragic high school lesbian production of Romeo & Juliet. They both loved her, but Taeko fucked her. When Eiko was killed in a traffic accident, the school canceled the play. But five members of the production made a suicide pact whereby the girls took some toxic chem lab stuff to make them drowsy and stood on a roof ledge playing a game of the last to jump wins. But Mitsuko spits out the so-called medicine and doesn’t jump, while Taeko was the only game playing survivor because she hit a car on her jump and walked away with only a permanent limp.

A trio of wannabe filmmakers–Jei (Reuben Uy) and Fukami (Brandon Win), led by the nerdy virgin Shin (Mitsushima Shinnosuke)–are besides themselves when Murata starts dating Mitsuko. They all have a crush on her. So they start secretly filming the couple until Murata moves in to take over the production himself by bankrolling it and then forcing himself on them as director. Murata shows his true monster colors and abuses everyone on the set. A number of colorful deaths ensue, as the outlaw film crew gets deeply involved in the extra-curricular activities. There’s nothing subtle about the killings, as the madman director screams out, “Movies are about emotions!”. Which certainly reflects the philosophy of this nutty filmmaker.

The trashy, self-indulgent excuse for an art film runs too long at over two-and-a-half hours, with nothing more on its mind than to be gruesome. There are many ugly sado-masochistic repetitive moments to sit through during its leaden middle part. But Sono doesn’t care what critics or viewers think. He’s out to make a hypnotic film to please himself and do it his way, even if his film is lacking in many areas. But bless his independent heart, because despite the film’s weirdness, cartoonish brutality and crassness I’ll take his insanely excessive bloodbath flick over many films that make no attempt to be artistic but are only released when approved as safe for the public by a focus group or the bottom-line studio heads.

REVIEWED ON 12/7/2019  GRADE: B-