Judge Adam Arseneau will never go to this particular banquet again, because too many people got blasted in the face with shotguns. The food was good, though.
Banquet of the beasts? Check, please.
Student films do not often end up on DVD in your living room, but ArtsMagicDVD has been kind enough to bring us Kickiku Dai Enkai (AKA Banquet of the Beasts), one of the most notorious films ever to emerge from the land of the rising sun. Its over-the-top use of gore and violence gained it solid footing throughout the smaller film festival circuits, and its intense sequences of ultra-violence soon made it the stuff of legend, featuring healthy doses of decapitations, disemboweling, and graphic depictions of places where shotguns should never, ever go.
Sound fun? Then read on, my friends.
Facts of the Case
Aizawa, the leader of a Japanese radical student political party in the 1970s, languishes in a jail cell, concerned about the state of his organization. When a friend he made in jail, Fujiwara, gets released, Aizawa gives him the address of his group and sends him there. When Fujiwara arrives, he finds that Aizawa's girlfriend, Masami, is running the show. Masami has been using her sexuality to maintain control over the radical group members, some who seem to inherently resent being ordered about by a woman, and splinters of discontent have already started to form.
Without Aizawa's leadership, the group slowly begins to decay. Masami begins to lose her control, but the group is confident that things will return to normal when Aizawa returns from prison…that is, until Aizawa kills himself in his jail cell. Upon hearing this, the group is thrown into chaos, and Masami desperately tries to keep things together and combat the rising distrust. But soon, the violence of their political ideologies becomes internalize within their own group; paranoia turns into distrust, and distrust begins to turn into madness and violence…
Kichiku Dai Enkai is the kind of movie you want to fast-forward all the way through until the body parts start flying. The rest of the movie is there, waiting for you, but it feels like a bad poetry reading, something you want to get through as quickly as possible. One could easily skip ahead the first forty minutes of this film, to when the creepiness and blood start up, and be no worse for the wear. That's not to say the last forty minutes are any better, mind you…but they're awfully violent. At least that's something, I guess.
As cool as this film wants to be, Kichiku is astonishingly vile, trite, and just plain all-around stupid. When the violence really starts up, it makes no sense…the characters basically just go out into the woods and start killing each other indiscriminately. How do you spend 45 minutes in a film talking and laying down the groundwork for a story and then suddenly take the characters into the woods, have them all go insane, and start murdering each other? Well, plenty of ways…this is, after all, a standard horror film cliché. And yet, the movie gives almost no explanation to this rapid change in behavior in its characters. Even going under the assumption of a cultural and/or language barrier impasse, I insist that this movie makes no sense. Though I am sure I am no expert, I have got some experience watching Japanese cinema, and I readily admit I had no idea what the freak was going on in Kichiku. If bad scripts transcend the language and cultural barrier, Kichiku drives through the barrier with a cement truck. This movie sucks.
Wait, I get it. Of course! The violence is all done for a good reason. After all, Kichiku is a political allegory in the 1970s of Japanese revolution, of social structure within a group of friends, an ultra-violent critique of the horrors and violence of modern society. The group of friends becomes a metaphor for Japanese politics, of w*** dang; I can't even go on with a straight face. As philosophically challenging and brainy as this film wants to be, it still sucks. A Clockwork Orange, it ain't. I mean, the subtle allegory of a man stabbing a blood-soaked Japanese flag with a samurai sword…ooh, profound. If you see my eyes rolling, please catch them. Kichiku needed only the lightest of touches to hammer its point home, but instead, went for the head with a sledgehammer. Hence, the sucking. Ah well.
But boy howdy, is it ever violent. That's about the only thing this film has going for it, and lifetime subscribers to Fangoria magazine will want front-row seats to Kichiku. The scenes of sex and violence are treated with voyeuristic reverence, and the camera lingers on them far longer than one expects, even for a splatter and gore film. When a character gets tied to a tree, for example, and gets kicked in the face, he gets kicked in the face…for two minutes. Like, two actual interrupted screen minutes, which in movie time is almost unbearable to watch. Probably the best part in Kichiku (and certainly the most infamous part) is the best shotgun-to-the-face special effect sequence that you will ever see. Seriously. It could give Tom Savini nightmares. Alas, if a good shotgun head explosion could make a movie great, Kichiku would have swept the Oscars, baby.
Like every student film ever made, regardless of country of origin, Kichiku is dark, gritty, claustrophobic, poorly filmed with bad audio, and shot for about the same cost as a used automobile. Despite the flaming piece of dog crap that is Kichiku, the director does show a respectable amount of promise, though he fell head first into the terrible, unavoidable trap that catches all film students…cramming every single camera, editing and shooting trick in the book into a single cacophonic mess of a film. Give the guy a good budget and a good script, and he'll have a great future in Japanese cinema. After all, it worked for Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson.
Did I mention that the plot of this movie makes absolutely no sense? Trying to figure this film out is infuriating in a hair-pulling sort of way. I mean, if you are a university student, and you join a radical political party, and the members start killing each other, at what point do you withdraw your membership, stop paying your monthly dues, and get the heck out of there? The sheer amounts of carnage (oh golly, and there are some doozies) cannot even begin to obscure the terribleness of this film. Things are done with severed penises, shotguns, and samurai swords that you don't even want to consider, I assure you…but so what? Why can't the movie itself be any good? It starts off all mysterious and compelling-like, with great dramatic promise…and then flushes itself down the toilet. It is as if the film realizes, half an hour in, that it cannot even take itself seriously, and simply self-destructs into a degrading spatter-o-rama of gore, guts, and bodily fluids. Big thumbs down on this one, kids. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Shot for about $30,000 on 16mm film as a graduation project, Kichiku looks like a bad student film, which is exactly what it is. In that sense, ArtsMagicDVD has done a good job of presenting it on DVD in its authentic form. The full frame transfer has good black levels, muted colors, graininess, and a complete lack of detail and sharpness. The image gets pixelated and chopped up on closer examination, and some anti-aliasing occurs now and again. This is hardly the best transfer ArtsMagicDVD has ever put together; but then again, the source material is probably the worst the company has encountered. The film seems in reasonably good shape, with some dirt and dusts now and again, but overall, a passable presentation. The mish-mash of stock footage from the 1970s of violent political activism in Japan is pretty neat, too.
A Dolby Surround 5.1 audio presentation is a nice touch, but considering this film was a student production, it seems overkill. Bass response is moderate, and dialogue stays in the front channels, but the sonic space hardly feels utilized to great potential. Sound effects feel misplaced from time to time, like when fists hit bodies silently, or knives plunge into walls and make no sound, on par for a low-budget production. The score, a blend of languid folk guitar and pounding Japanese percussion, creates an interesting atmosphere of 1970s idealism and gut-wrenching tension and drama. The sound is a solid presentation, but like the video quality, taken from sketchy source material. This audio presentation ain't gonna win any awards, but it doesn't suck.
Though you can certainly question their taste in movies in this particular instance, you can't knock the quality and care that ArtsMagicDVD dumps into their DVDs. For Kichiku, they went the distance and included a second disc full of extra materials, something this reviewer sincerely hopes will continue down the line with future ArtsMagicDVD releases. The second disc features a barrage of interviews and featurettes to supplement the film, starting with an introduction by acclaimed Japanese film nerd Tom Mes. Two short featurettes, "The Making of Kichiku" and "Reaction to Kichiku," feature forty minutes of behind-the-scene footage, interviews with the director, and footage of the Kichiku's debut at Japanese film festivals. These kids clearly had an absolute ball making this film, and it almost starts to warm your heart watching these glimpses of normality and carefree humor. It almost makes you forget the awful film they managed to create. In addition to the standard biographies/filmographies and trailers, interviews with cameraman Kiyoaki Hashimoto, director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri, and the four lead actors (Tomohiko Zaizen, Shunsuke Sawada, Shigero Bokuda and Kentako Ogiso) are included. We're talking hours of footage here, and all the interviews have optional subtitles. The film might blow chunks, but Kichiku comes with an impressive set of extras to warm even the coldest of hearts.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Why does Masami make out with a stuffed bird, and then tear its head off?
Seriously. I'd really like to know.
As a showcase for blood, guts and astonishing violence, Kichiku Dai Enkai rivals even the most shocking exploitation films, but that's all this film has going for it. Your great aunt's home movies of her trip to Wichita are more exciting, cohesive, and enjoyable than this piece of flaming crap. To their credit, ArtsMagicDVD did a fantastic job of packing this DVD full of extras, but all this excellent production value goes to waste on a terrible film. They should have spent the time and money involved in pimping out this DVD release and invested in a better film.
Despite the entertaining graphic carnage and its intellectually lofty ambitions, Kichiku is a complete waste of time, brain cells, and good ol' fashioned genital mutilation. Even for a student film, it sucks. All it needed was a black-and-white shot of a clown crying at the end to make it abhorrently terrible. Is that too much to ask for?
Terrible. Except for the shotgun-to-the-face, which the court recognizes as being pretty radical. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
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Scales of Justice
• Introduction by Tom Mes, Acclaimed Writer on Japanese Cinema
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