Thursday, 4 October 2012

15 Second Review: Satsu Satsu (Ayame) (1999)

This is a difficult movie to discuss. It is very cheaply made. In fact, it looks like it’s been shot on the type of standard tape-based video camera that was de rigueur in the last days of the 20th Century. Direction and create an uncomfortable, realistic atmosphere. I’m yet to find a subtitled version of the film, I am also shut out of the dialogue. Granted, this makes the film more challenging for those of us who are language-impaired. However, these technical aspects mean that I come to the films disarmed of the central critical tools I would usually utilise. I confess, I must be a cultural masochist because…*I like it*.

The other difficulty is that reviewing this unreviewable film means essentially describing what happens, and I’d hate to give anything away. Suffice it to say that film is divided into four vignettes (3 live action, the last “puppetry” (to some extent)). Those chapters - as the international title may have given away – revolve around the theme/motif of suicide. The first story is long, and very slow. Yet, that mood reflects the boredom and isolation felt by the protagonist. The film prompts that feeling of tedium and repetition for the viewer too. Since the protagonist is driven to suicide by her isolation, inducing that same feeling for the viewer is unnerving. It also makes the film strangely compelling.

This disquieting atmosphere is prevalent. The second story is predictably gloomy, and pretty short. The title notwithstanding, the first chapter established that there is only one possible conclusion for each vignette. The events that lead to suicide are imbued with ominous inevitability. The third story is, not to undersell it, pretty gory. It may be a bit too much for some viewers, as the protagonist’s death is filmed in graphic detail. It is nothing that hasn’t already been done in countless other splatter films, but its juxtaposition with the previous downbeat sections renders this tale somewhat sensational. As a stand-alone piece, the gore would be nowhere near as affecting. The pacing across the film is what makes this so impactful.

Rounding off this arc is a bizarre final section, featuring plastic dolls and some distorted hardcore/extreme techno. I liked it, some will hate it. And who can blame them? As a conclusion, it makes little sense. It doesn’t even involve suicide, just murder…if you can call “doll death” murder. Given the thoughtful way the previous sections were established, paced, and placed, it may be that I am entirely missing some ominous political subtext. Perhaps there is a running theme that I am missing out on, not least since I am unable to translate any of the dialogue. Maybe there is some ‘chant[ing] in the darkness’ that I am not hearing. Make of it what you will.

Initially, I was disappointed by Satsu Satsu (ayame). It is not quite the extreme cinema it is hyped to be, or that anyone familiar with Psycho: Tumbling Doll of Flesh might expect. However, it has forced itself under my skin. Seven years after I first saw the film, my mind is still trying to decide if it is filmic genius or exploitative trash. Yet, I have responded to it rather more positively on a visceral and subconscious level…or i wouldn’t be writing this review. Anyone expecting another sick-fest from Anaru will probably be disappointed (especially during the first half). Unlike most other straight-to-VHS J-sploitation films I have seen, this one has left me thinking…and that can be no bad thing.

This is a hard film to get hold of, but, with prior warning, is worth checking out. Let it bury into you.

 

 

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