Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Karaoke Terror

What is wrong with this picture? Well for one thing, the guy's got a makeshift spear sticking out of his neck and, in addition, appears to be having a hell of a piss as he expires from his wound (seems he was doing his business up against a fence when a woman on a scooter came by and harpooned him). This is one of several violent set pieces that serve more as MacGuffins than truly defining moments in what is essentially an offbeat indie film, rather than anything deeply dark or transgressive.

I'll admit I was a bit disappointed by Karaoke Terror (2003), a film that seems to want to stand alongside cinematic works like Dead or Alive and Battle Royale, but in the end just doesn't have the goods. Don't get me wrong, it has its own special charm, but charm isn't what I was looking for in a tale of two groups of karaoke pals (young guys in one, middle-aged women in the other) who wage an ever-escalating war against one another after one of the guys casually slashes one of the women to death in a rainy garden. It's based on the novel Popular Hits of the Showa Era by Ryu Murakami (who also gave us Audition), and I wonder if the source material wasn't a bit more intense than this playful rendering.

Great cast, though. There's Masanobu Asano, memorable for his red-headed psycho in Battle Royale and plucky boxer in Kid's Return; Ryuhei Matsuda, the androgynous Shinsengumi member in Taboo and the boa constrictor-wearing God/Satan character in Izo; Kayoko Kishimoto, Beat Takeshi's dying wife in Fireworks; Yoshio Harada, who's been in more great films than I could begin to list here (try Hunter in the Dark and Roningai for starters); and the manga-cute Miwako Ichikawa, who co-starred with Harada in Another Heaven.

Karaoke Terror isn't a bad movie, just a little too precious for this dark cinema aficionado.

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