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Kichiku Dai Enkai (January 6/05)

It doesn't come as a huge shock to learn that Kichiku Dai Enkai is a student film, given director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri's propensity for quick cuts, incoherent cutaways, and all-around experimentalism. Kichiku Dai Enkai has also gone on to achieve a certain level of notoriety due to the extreme level of violence in the movie, but it becomes increasingly difficult to overlook the sluggish pace and lack of plot developments; Kumakiri spends far too much time on long, dialogue-free sequences, something that negates the effectiveness of the film's second half.

Set in the '70s, the story revolves around a group of radicals (we never discover just what they're rebelling against) whose leader has just been sent to prison. Said leader's girlfriend, Masami (Sumiko Mikami), has decided that she should be in charge while he's away, despite the protests of several followers. Masami initially uses her sexuality to gain the respect of her men, but is forced to turn to brutality when that doesn't work - arranging a trip into the woods that soon turns deadly.

Up until that fateful jaunt into the woods, Kichiku Dai Enkai is almost painfully dull. Kumakiri doesn't really develop any of the characters beyond the superficial - ie among the followers, there's a meek guy, a blindly loyal guy, a crazy guy, etc - and as a result, it's impossible to care about a single thing these people do or say in the film's opening hour. Exacerbating matters is Kumakiri's reluctance to introduce any plot developments until about midway through the film, choosing instead to spend time with the characters as they hang out and do drugs and generally engage in debauchery.

But then the movie takes a radical left turn, becoming something entirely different - though not necessarily something better. Once arriving in the woods, the group begins to fall apart and it's not long before the characters begin behaving more like animals than anything else. While there's no denying that the ridiculously over-the-top instances of violence are quite entertaining - best partial decapitation since Bad Taste! - it's just not enough to disguise the fact that Kumakiri barely has enough substance here to fill a 15-minute short (let alone a 104-minute feature).

If nothing else, it's clear that Kichiku Dai Enkai is the sort of film that would be immeasurably improved when viewed with a large crowd (their reactions to some of the more absurd goings-on would probably be more entertaining than the movie itself).

out of

About the DVD: ArtsMagic once again goes all-out in delivering a superb transfer and a surfeit of bonus features (all of which are included on the set's second disc). First up is an introduction by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes, followed by a making-of featurette that's surprisingly in-depth. A short doc entitled Reaction to Kichiku is also included, along with several interviews with with key crew and cast members. Finally, filmographies and a trailer round out the disc's supplemental content.