Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Village of Doom

Director: Noboru Tanaka
Writer: Takuya Nishioka
Cast: Masato Furuoya, Izumi Hara, Misako Tanaka
Year of release: 1983
Country: Japan
Reviewed from: screener DVD (Artsmagic)

This has to be one of the most obscure films that Artsmagic has so far released - and I should know because as usual I compiled bio-filmographies of director and cast for the film. Well, I found out about the individual people, but a thorough search of my own files, the internet and the BFI library turned up absolutely nothing on the film itself.

So I sat down to watch the screener disc with absolutely no preconceptions whatsoever. What sort of film is this? A horror movie, an action flick, a drama? It’s a bit of all of them I suppose. It’s a revenge movie is what it is, but unlike that most high profile of recent revenge flicks Kill Bill - which is pretty much non-stop revenge from start to finish with the occasional flashback for justification - Village of Doom (Ushimitsu no Mura) is 75 per cent justification and only kicks into full-on revenge mode in the last half-hour or so.

Masato Furuoya, more recently seen in spooky TV series such as Juni Inagawa’s House of Horror and Tengoku e no Kaidan, stars as Tsugio Inumaru in this WW2-set tale. While other young men go off to fight in Manchuria, sensitive, intelligent Tsugio is left in the village because he’s not fit enough for the army. This has its apparent advantages - with so many husbands away, it’s not long before he loses his virginity to an older woman - but all that Tsugio feels is shame.

He lives with his grandmother Han (Izumi Hara: The Magic Serpent) and the two of them are soft touches who frequently lend money to others, unlikely to ever see it back. The isolated village, whose only link with the rest of the world is a rickety railway line, is an insular little place where cousins marry cousins and strangers aren’t tolerated.

Struggling to retain his honour, Tsugio finds that those around him have none. He is tortured by guilt over his occasional flings with other men’s wives and pain at his inability to relate to girls his own age, and a desperate attempt to pass the army physical leaves him feeling even worse. So he goes to the city and buys a gun. And when the village policeman finds and confiscates it, he goes back and buys lots of guns. And swords. And knives. And combat gear of all sorts.

And at the 83-minute mark, the tension which has been slowly building bursts and Tsugio makes his way around the village, coolly and brutally killing almost everyone he meets in a flurry of bullets and blades.

Director Noboru Tanaka (Watcher in the Attic, A Woman Called Sada Abe) worked under Kurosawa on films like Yojimbo before becoming a leading director of ‘roman porno’ soft porn films in the 1970s. Star Furuoya committed suicide in March 2003. The other cast members include Isao Natsuyagi (Tidal Wave, Virus, Warm Water Under a Red Bridge), Renji Ishibashi (Roningai, Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell, Tetsuo the Iron Man and stacks of Kinji Fukasaku and Takashi Miike films), Misako Tanaka (Gonza the Spearman) and Shino Ikenami (Evil Dead Trap 2).

Fascinating and intense, Village of Doom is a look inside the psyche of a troubled teen entirely unfettered by modern western concerns. It’s beautifully shot and elegantly written, but may just be too slow-moving for many potential viewers, because until that 83-minute point, it’s entirely unclear where this is going.

MJS rating: B

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