Roughly translated as Banquet for Demonic Beasts Kichiku is a student film made on a minimal budget by a then third-year college student by the name of Kazuyoshi Kumakiki. The focus of the piece is a group of ultra-leftist students who find themselves without a leader and under the command of the perpetually in heat Masami, the boss' girlfriend who spirals continuously out of control dragging the group down with her. You may ask why a student film has even seen a DVD release and the answer would be that Kichiku turned several heads and garnered much attention from critics in festivals across Japan and Europe not only for the promise Kumakiki showed as a director but inevitably for the gruesome acts depicted with extreme visual clarity onscreen...admittedly the latter is what drew my attention to this DVD.
Currently serving what we presume to be a short prison sentence as a result of left-wing protests, Aizawa has entrusted control of the leftist group of seventies students he resides over to his girlfriend Masami (Sumiko Mikami). Holed up in a small apartment the group’s activities reflect those of socially inept individuals who are looking for a sense of belonging no matter how demented the source. Other than the occasional mention of collecting money and direct references to hitting a Post Office and obtaining a shotgun there is little to suggest much criminal activity is taking place as we instead see the group go about their mundane existence which is spiced up by their new female boss.
The initial proceedings take on an almost wildlife documentary approach with Masami as the leader and sole female member of her pack which consists of several possible suitors that she tests in her partners absence. Forever in heat Masame first turns to Yamane (Tomohiro Zaizen) for attention and once she is through kicks him out of the group due to a conflict of interests. Then in the first of three "Enkai" (work-related) parties Masami performs a ritualistic mating dance to arouse and size up the potential males in the group before choosing Kumatani (Shigeru Bokuda) as her second trophy.
Not long after her third and final suitor has been given the once over do the group learn that Aizawa decided to perform a crude self-appendectomy rendering him a lifeless bloody mess. Given her activities it is somewhat surprising that Masami is upset by this unfortunate event, so much so that in her grief she chooses to get off with a dead chicken (seriously!). Rather unsurprisingly this is where the violence Kichiku is notorious for begins...
The final two "Enkai" parties follow and make up the groups activities which see them descend into what can only be described as utter chaos as Masami and her chosen suitor lead the way and through both legitimate and ludicrous decision making drag two of their members (and coincidentally Masami's former mates) into the mountains to kill. What begins as an initial beating soon transcends into torture with the group members forced to participate through fear of their own well-being. Eventually these activities spiral completely out of control and result in some particularly nasty dismembering of body parts.
In the last of the aptly titled "Enkai" parties the grotesque nature of the proceedings take on a whole new meaning. What initially looks to be a mercy killing to end the suffering of one group member soon turns into an exploration of the victims ability to absorb the afflictions imposed upon him by his friend who in turn is exploring his own rage before it all ends on a sombre note that is accompanied by the folk music that once symbolised their friendship. All the while Masami is enjoying the loins of her chosen mate in a sequence that almost defies logic and escalates to involve some quite brutal sexual violence that would not seem out of place in the most extreme of graphic novels.
Kichiku begins as an intriguing exploration into a group of left-wing activists that is propelled along by its raw performances, energetic camerawork and sparing use of effectively placed music before it slowly develops into an extremely graphic piece of filmmaking that invites both comical and shock reactions followed by further intrigue to see exactly where the director will take you next. The brutality of the onscreen violence is offset well against the groups increasingly detached behaviour over their activities but to say the violence is neither gratuitous or there for shock value would be wrong, as though it only just oversteps the line into the genre of 'Japan Shock' it is often clearly there.
What ensures Kichiku offers more than just mindless gratuitous violence is the traditionally Japanese paced first half which explores the groups inner workings, and the second half’s exploration into group mentality and the negative effects that can have (regardless of whether or not the members are ultra-leftist). You could also make an interesting case regarding the groups newcomer, Fujihara (Kentaro Ogiso), a former prison-mate of Aizawa who it could be argued shares the same ideals and was instructed by Aizawa to ensure his left-wing group followed him to the grave as part of an extreme demonstration to aid their cause.
If however you see none of this in the film and are simply looking for a piece of shockingly violent cinema, Kichiku should not disappoint (though it may initially bore anyone looking for quick satisfaction)...
Released in the Netherlands through the Japan Shock label the first 2500 units of this release are presented as a special limited collectors edition with slipcase. The disc itself is Region 0 PAL.
The slipcase cover lists the video format as 'Letterboxed' but what we actually find is a 4:3 Full Screen transfer which my research suggests is indeed the original aspect ratio. Unfortunately some cramp framing in selected sequences occasionally made me think otherwise but the picture quality and student nature of the film lead me to believe this was most likely shot on 16mm, ergo with a 4:3 Full Screen aspect ratio but then I should also point out that I am no expert on these matters.
The print sourced for this DVD release is in fairly good condition with only the occasional nick and scratch mark visible. The low budget is reflected by the transfer that is often soft with washed out colours, quite grainy with poor contrast levels displaying greys as opposed to deep blacks while detail is also not very high. There has been no attempt at restoration or digital remastering which in some ways is favourable as there are no signs of edge enhancement while compression on the whole seems fairly decent with no real quibbles other than an obvious video glitch right at the very start of the film. Despite all this the transfer is in my eyes quite acceptable even though it is only vaguely better than a VHS copy, but then maybe I am being too easy on the disc given the circumstances in which the film was produced.
The audio is a basic stereo mix that is a little rough around the edges with a constant audible background hiss if you crank the volume up past a certain level (-50db on my Amp). Dialogue is always clear while the soundtrack mainly consists of ambient background noise that is relatively well produced, though the superbly chosen chambara music cues (mostly heavy drum rhythms) are a little muffled and lacking in distinction. Again I would put the audio shortcomings down to the low budget production rather than the DVD, but some digital restoration could have gone a long way.
The optional English subtitles are something of a mixed blessing. On one hand they are relatively free of spelling and grammatical errors and appear to do a decent job of translating the dialogue, but on the other they can be wildly out of synch with the audio by anything up to six-seconds in either direction (displaying before or after the dialogue they are intended to translate). For myself this was not a great issue and certainly anyone familiar with early Hong Kong DVD releases should have little trouble in following the dialogue, it just requires that little extra concentration. Dutch and German subtitles are also provided.
A thirty-minute making-of documentary consists purely of behind-the-scenes material shot during the production that focuses heavily on the films second, more effects heavy half and offers much insight as to how the graphic results were achieved. What it also shows is that much fun was had on set despite the macabre nature of the film while the slightly unprofessional nature of students also shines through with frequent laughter and even the breaking of wind at an inopportune moment. Fully subtitled in English, Dutch and German (and perfectly in sync) this is top stuff and more than I would have expected to find on a film and DVD release of this relatively low standing.
Also present on the disc is a four-minute trailer which does a good job of peaking the audience interest and a brief photo gallery with stills taken on set. All of the above is easily selected through the animated menu which takes on a videogame format in the style of Doom while the prison setting and shotgun selection method is very apt given how prominently the latter features in the main film. Two final points worth mentioning is how the 'Making of' is spelt wrong on the menu (Making Off) and how there are only 8 chapter stops, with the final one coming with 32-minutes still left.
More so than most films Kichiku is an acquired taste and can only be recommended to those looking for something different, raw and experimental while any gore hounds out there should get a kick out of the often depraved fondling of victims innards. Unfortunately to my knowledge this is the only DVD release available and despite the obvious drawbacks with the presentation offers a fairly decent package which is only let down further by the high asking price and poor availability.