This will probably be my last review for a few weeks, as I am about to shut up ThingsFallApart Towers, give all the staff a well earned break, and venture across the Atlantic for a short break. I actually have 8 reviews in various states of readiness, but they are just going to have to sit in that in-tray. However, I have had a little bit of a Director-centric personal festival recently, so I thought I would have a little look at this somewhat overlooked J-Horror from Shion Sono. His “Suicide Circle” is one of the two films that originally inspired this blog that I have never gotten round to writing about. Not only that, but this film stars one of the more memorable actresses from the other forgotten movie, “Battle Royale”. I’ll get round to both eventually, but for now, let us have a little look about this rather wonderful and weird delight.
“Ekusute” is the story of trainee Hairdresser Yuko (Chiaki Kuriyami), who shares a house with her friend/work colleague. Things get a little tough for the pair when Yuko’s somewhat errant Sister starts taking advantage of them, mostly by leaving her young daughter in their care. Yuko is doubly shocked to find the child is the victim of mental and physical abuse. Meanwhile a strange Cargo container is opened at the docks, which is just crammed full of Hair, presumably for the popular Hair Extensions fad. Not only that, but a dead body of a young woman is found inside. It seems however, that something is amiss with this body, as it keeps sprouting hour from just about any orifice. Imagine the joy on the face (and elsewhere) of Mortuary assistant and Hair Fetishist Yamazaki Gunji (Osugi Ren) when this cadaver comes in – so much so he takes the body home! Yamazaki starts using the hair for Hair Extensions he sells to local salons, but as you may have guessed, the hair has not only a life of its own, but a deadly intent too. Cue lots of imaginative and gruesome deaths. Obviously this leads to the path of the rather smashingly haired Yuko, who is the subject of some extra attention from Yamazaki. Can our heroine survive? Can she help her poor Niece? Or will the deadly hair claim her as a victim.
Sono is a fascinating Director, who may have started with the rather extreme end of things, but he has matured into quite an outstanding talent (albeit occasionally he does very into the pretentious). “Ekusute” is in many ways a little different to most of his work, as it has it’s tongue firmly in its cheek. Whilst he is quite capable of putting forth some quite nasty and graphic death scenes, they are all done with a comic touch. More hardened horror fans I think would be amused rather than scared, plus you have to assume he is having a bit of fun with the “Long-haired Girl” archetype found in so many Asian Horror films in the 2000’s. Most importantly to me, he manages to cover some of the more serious subject matter (such as child abuse) in a suitable and affecting tone, whilst still finding time to have fun with the more out there craziness that is going on.
I totally adored the introduction of Yuko, who talks (along with her housemate) initially in a kind of first person, break the fourth wall, exposition. It’s pretty unique (echoing the styling of many Manga). It’s utterly hilarious and charming, but smartly the joke isn’t overplayed, especially once we get into darker fare. The real treasure here is the general performance of Chiaki Kuriyami. She will be a familiar face to those with the vaguest interest in modern Asian cinema, having had a sizeable role in “Ju-on”, “Battle Royale” and “Kill Bill”. Thing is, up to now, she would have been considered a “psycho Asian schoolgirl”. Here she is a just adorable character, who totally grounds the film in reality. Any thoughts that she might not be able to carry this off are dashed within 10 minutes (and maybe we should not be surprised – whilst she hasn’t done too much film work, she is a constant fixture in Japanese TV drama). She really is a unique looking girl – incredibly attractive, without succumbing to many of the Japanese Actress visual stereotypes.
On the other side of things, Osugi Ren decides to play things for laughs. Which is probably for the best, otherwise the film could have become just too dark. He has an absolute ball in his role, camping it up in a disturbing wig, and singing himself strange little songs, whilst looking lovingly at all the hair that is presented to him.
For me, this is a minor film on the Director’s CV, although totally one of my favourites. He manages to channel some of the weirdness of Takeshi Miike in his prime (certainly with the quite bizarre fate that becomes Yamazaki), but also has created a piece which has an amount of depth and emotion. Not only that, and not wanting to give any spoilers, but he gives the film a happy ending, when it would be so much easier to end the film on a dark note, like so many films of this type do.
In conclusion, I totally adored this film. It manages to be fun and disturbing and camp. Yet at the same time it deals with some quite difficult subject matter, and these two distinctly different moods coexist and combine effortlessly. As long as you come into it not expecting a normal J-Horror, there is just so much to enjoy here. Highly Recommended.