Kichiku: Banquet of the Beasts (1997)

Rating: D

Dir: Kazuyoshi Kumakiri
Star: Sumiko Makami, Shunsuke Kawada, Shigeru Bokuda, Toshiyuki Sugihara

You’re probably much better off watching the extra features in this 2-disc set first, as that will let you put this film in context. Specifically, it was inspired by a 1972 hostage situation involving a radical faction linked to the Japanese Red Army, later found to have murdered those they regarded as traitors – in Western terms, crossing Jonestown with Waco, perhaps. Here, Kumakiri depicts a small political sect, whose leader is in prison; his girlfriend Masami deputises, using her body to keep the group together. But when the boss commits suicide, both Masami and things in general begin to become unhinged, with a defector from the group being kidnapped and taken to the mountains – which is where things really start to fall apart.

It’s being marketed largely as a gorefest, but it’s probably 45 minutes before this side kicks in, and we found it pretty tedious going. This is a student film, and frankly, it shows; points are belaboured with an overearnest zeal that reminded me of Pasolini’s Salo. [A film I failed to “get” either, and which I reckon is tremendously over-rated.] As well as the lack of any cultural resonance for Western viewers, there’s little or no characterisation, the focus leaps around without apparent purpose, and Masami’s switch from political slut to insane killer is jarringly sudden and unexplained. Insight, be it psychological, social or political, is equally absent.

There’s no denying the impact of the violence, which is largely depicted with an unflinching and realistic eye; nasty, brutal and vicious, exactly how it should be. There is one moment which, all qualms aside, will stick in your mind; that whirring sound you hear is late BBFC kommandant Jim Ferman, spinning in his grave at the use to which a shotgun is put. However, what’s missing is a point, or any significant emotional effect. In more competent hands, the level of savagery this depicts would have the viewer shaking in his shoes; instead, it’s easy to walk away without a second thought.