Lumberjack the Monster (2023)

Rating: C+

Dir: Takashi Miike
Star: Kazuya Kamenashi, Nanao, Shota Sometani, Shido Nakamura

The return of Miike to the horror genre, after a decade or so away, got dumped on Netflix without absolutely zero fanfare [even less than the surprise arrival of Godzilla Minus One]. I can kinda see why; how the hell do you market a film where all the lead characters may be psychopaths? Admittedly, in at least some cases these might be artificially created ones, the legacy of a horrendous set of child abductions and medical experiments, thirty-odd years ago. Now, we have someone, wearing the titular costume (top), smashing people’s heads open, in order to get the neuro-chip which turned them into psychopaths. Unsurprisingly, it takes the cops quite a while to figure out this bizarre scenario. 

Somewhat ahead of them is Akira Ninomiya, a lawyer with one of those chips, but who is quite content in his lot. He hangs out with doctor pal Kuro Sugitani (Sometani), a “natural born psycho” with a fondness for unethical research himself. Meanwhile, the police investigation is headed by profiler Arashiko Toshiro (Nanao), who has no qualms about ignoring procedure, e.g. to get her hands on Ninomiya’s medical records. As they dig into the survivors of the abductions, attention focuses on Takeshi Kenmochi (Nakamura), who was previously the suspect in his wife’s “accidental” death. But Toshiro is more than willing to let Ninomiya lead authorities to the killer, since he is unfettered by any legal niceties – or morality – in his own investigation. 

The concept of a psychopath taking out other psychopaths is a good one, and the film does well at putting you inside the hear of these characters. You may not necessarily agree with their actions, yet it’s always possible to see where they’re coming from, and motives behind them. You’ll find yourself wondering about moral questions: if you were a psycho, and surgery was available to “correct” your personality, would you take it? However, if you have come to this expecting the excessive Miike from the likes of Ichii the Killer, you are going to be disappointed. Outside of some early moments which suggest a concerning epidemic of high blood-pressure among the Japanese, there’s not the gonzo sense anything could happen at any time.

That isn’t necessarily a problem. I’ve seen enough Miike films to appreciate his skills are not just in the cinema of the extreme. However, there isn’t too much else to stick in your mind, once you get past the basic scenario. None of the performances are remarkable, though all are competent. Ninomiya is very much cut from the Patrick Bateman mould of psychopaths. He looks more like he could be in a boy band, rather than someone with a passion for murder, good though he clearly is at suppressing his emotions. I think focusing on his development and transformation might have been more productive, instead of a rather implausible killing spree. While a decent watch, if you said this was very much Miike in Netflix Original mode, I wouldn’t argue with you.