Tokyo Psycho Review

Urban myths and real life murders are so fantastic that every year they get films made about them. Ataru Oikawa’s Tokyo densetsu: ugomeku machi no kowai hanashi (re-dubbed Tokyo Psycho in the west) is one such film. Here the director who carved his name with 1999’s Tomie works from a script inspired by a much publicised case in Japan: The horrific 1988-1989 “Otaku murders”. In actual fact Tokyo Psycho bears little relation to these events, merely borrowing a little of the killer’s M.O. with regards to the way in which he sent his victims’ family members small packages. The screenwriter is none other than Yumeaki Hirayama, the very guy who penned ’Cho’ Kowai Hanashi A: Yami no Karasu. That film proved to be wonderfully quirky, hitting some very high notes, and so his next script should have been equally as entertaining. Sadly it’s not; it’s one of the most meandering movies of 2004, which just about manages to fail on every single level.
If after that you’re still interested then allow me to brief you on the set up.

Yumiko Oosawa (Sachiko Kokubu) works at a popular design agency with her best friend Moe (Mizuho Nakamura) and Keisuke (Seiji Chihara). One day Moe announces to Yumiko that she has a new boyfriend, Osamu (Masashi Taniguci) who she plans to marry, which initially shocks her friend. But those concerns are the least of her worries when she starts to receive disturbing packages from an unknown sender, who just may have gone to school with her a few years ago and could be back in Tokyo doing stuff. I mean whoa, the possibilities are endless.

If after reading that you’ve sussed out who the killer is then congratulations, you win a prize:

Click to enlarge

Tokyo Psycho should have been thirty minutes long. Upon his introduction we know exactly who the killer of this piece is (seeing as there’s only five actors in it), and director Oikawa seems to take no effort in concealing the fact competently, by having his actors drop little tell tale signs, during such an inept set up.
The following text contains spoilers. Click and drag over this box to view.
The very fact that Moe’s new boyfriend is just a little bit too nice gets the alarm bells ringing, along with how his appearance is so well timed against Yumiko’s worrying letters. When the final act approaches the surprise element is long wasted and Oikawa simply relies on his actors hamming up proceedings; it almost feels as if this twist was not relevant at all, but then if that was his intention all along then why the whole sluggish mystery for the first half? Of course this wouldn't have been nearly as problematic had he simply acknowledged the identity of Yumiko’s stalker from the start, that way he could have concentrated on creating a far more terrifying experience rather than insult the audience.
And this is precisely the director’s problem – he has no concept of how to generate tension, mystery or suspense. As any fan will tell you these are some of the fundamental basics behind any good horror movie. It’s to be expected that any director may wish to spend a solid thirty minutes in setting up his characters before setting the fuel alight, but by exhausting his flame early on Oikawa spends his time filling in this two-piece jigsaw of a movie with motiveless shots aplenty.

Regardless of the fact that Tokyo Psycho doesn’t offer much in the way of actual gore it should have at least been able to conjure up a sense of insecurity, which indeed would have befitted Yumiko’s situation. The first five minutes would appear to stick to that rule by introducing a bizarre scenario involving some crazy woman played by a man in a flowery dress, with a red umbrella. Sadly this kind of surrealism doesn’t stretch beyond this particular point; it’s an ambiguous aspect which is jarring to say the least. Oikawa only manages to eclipse this moment toward the final act when he reveals the outcome of a particular character’s death, and although we don’t see any gory detail take place (a la Seven) the lurid aftermath is presented in a unique and warped manner. So Oikawa’s ideal way of creating tension to fill in the blanks for the rest of the time is to set up a series of elaborate dolly shots that take place mostly in sterile corridors and serve little to no purpose at all, as they simply track Yumiko’s movements in all their splendour, I mean dullness. In addition Oikawa’s sense of composition is equally as bizarre as his penchant for nonsensical imagery: for example a POV shot staged as if it were taken from a child’s height turns out to be a fully grown man delivering a package upon the long overdue reveal. Because of the film’s sheer lack of substance the director pads it out with unacceptably drawn out takes: Yumiko spends over a minute (a tedious one I might add) opening a box with a knife, as more of that grating, lower than lower budget scoring works its way in. You may well wonder what low budget scoring is exactly, and while it’s hard to describe it does exist. Trust me. As you can understand, examples such as these, complete with an ending that goes on 15 minutes too long for a 79 minute run time leaves very little else to be desired. And that’s time that could be used filling some plot holes such as
The following text contains spoilers. Click and drag over this box to view.
how does the killer manage to take Mika back to her apartment and then tie her up in barbed wire, after killing her in broad daylight in the middle of a street and with no car in sight? I’m gonna suggest The Murder Bus, which is usually red and only stops in alleyways.


But of course Tokyo Psycho also has the thankless task of bearing some truly awful performances on occasion. It’s certainly not uncommon to see models drafted into low budget flicks and strangely enough the guys and girls do decent enough jobs when they’re required to be “normal”. It’s when things start to heat up that people suddenly become prone to bouts of “actors revenge” – a term whereby the performer knows no bounds. Alright I made that up, feel free to borrow it though. So yea, Sachiko Kokubu is nice on the eyes and if this was a film about an attractive model I bet she’d be really good, but as a heroine in a horror movie she’s a little lamb lost, and a lot of that blame can be put on Oikawa for placing her in some awkward situations. The difficulty with her portrayal is that she’s never a sympathetic character and as for emoting she fails in not knowing when to draw the line, lest comedy ensues (see her surviving the beach scene). In fact the only time she ever appears genuine is when she’s being forced to eat worms, which I suspect are real, as she lays there sobbing her heart out at the hands of her stalker. Mizuho Nakamura on the other hand is suitable casting, purely because she only has to be bubbly on screen, although yes, Oikawa also gives her a rubbish scene in which she has to endure wearing a ridiculously fake mask.

But who should take top honours? It’s got to be Masashi Taniguci for his performance as Osamu Komiya. Never before has an actor screamed so effectively like a chimpanzee for most of his scenes. Never before has such a performance complimented the task of eating live worms, nor have we seen such bizarre transitions from normality to maniacal blabbering. I suppose on that level there is a sense of originality here, but really you don’t need such a comedy performance for someone meant to strike fear into the viewer. Now I know that you know that I tend to really beat down films I hate, and with that in mind I’ll stop here -

Here.

The DVD

Panik House kindly sent through their limited edition pressing of Tokyo Psycho (cheers lads), of which only 7,500 will be made available. After that it’s simple amaray case. Slapped on the front of the case with some easy to peel glue is a jigsaw replica of the front cover. It’s not very exciting, but then I admit I was expecting something far more ambitious when a puzzle design was originally announced. An insert sticker is also included. It’s nice to see that Panik House are trying to be a little different though and we can surely expect some other interesting designs in future.

A/V

It’s a shame that Panik House presents us with such a poor looking film. Presented in a non-anamorphic ratio of 1.85:1 Tokyo Psycho suffers quite a bit. According to the case this is a new, director approved transfer, which makes so little sense because it really doesn’t show off anything well, aside from low budget imperfections. According to Matt Kennedy’s commentary the film was shot in 4:3 and was then altered for a theatrical showing, hence the 1.85:1. However the director never intended for it to be seen in such a way, and so Panik House have preserved the ratio by not stretching the image to give us an anamorphic display. Yes I am a little perplexed by this. Why couldn’t they have obtained an original 4:3 master? Regardless of that the image does not hold up particularly well anyway: Brightness levels are too high for a start and contrast has been boosted a little; blacks aren’t deep, although skin tones appear to be fairly natural given the DV quality. Interlacing, aliasing and composite artefacts are big problems, showing signs of a poor DV to DVD transfer. I encountered similar problems when reviewing Film 2000’s MPD Psycho, so I can’t gauge just how much of a bearing the source material has on this transfer. Still it seems to be the best version out there. I have been able to provide a comparison between this and the UKR0 release from Hardgore.

Panik House (R1)


Hardgore (R0)


Panik House (R1)


Hardgore (R0)


Panik House’s transfer proves to be a little more colourful, but seems to have slightly boosted contrast levels. However it is also sharper and manages to preserve the intended grainy look that the director was going for in certain scenes. Hargore’s transfer also exhibits more compression artifacts, which can't be seen in these shots. The R2 is also an NTSC to PAL transfer. In the end neither are brilliant and a lot of these comparisons can seem pretty marginal.*

For sound we get Japanese DD2.0 and Japanese DD5.1, neither of which conjures up much more than a few boisterous noises, but then considering how awful the soundtrack is you’d be better of really; the film’s score tries so hard to be menacing, yet it’s distracting and highly irritating, and as for the choice effects they couldn’t be more useless – what’s with the slurping wormy sounds? Ridiculous. Still, it comes across fine, as does dialogue.

Optional English and Spanish subtitles are available. The English subs read well, though I spotted one instance where a name was mistakenly mentioned in place of another.

Extras

Panik House has licensed a few bits and pieces to accompany this release. First up are two audio commentaries in the audio set-up screen, one of which is completely useless to those who don’t understand Spanish. This is from Cine-East.com critic Enrique Calvez, and does not come with optional English subtitles.
The other track is from Panik House president Matt Kennedy and Japanese licenser Ko Mori. The pair talk about acquiring the film and how it’s based on urban legends and fact, going into tiny details about the otaku murders, but there’s nothing much here beyond padding – extensive padding. Kennedy seems to lead along Mori, prompting him and getting answers out if him that he wants to hear, and indeed they always manage to find something worth praising here. But it never goes into production detail; we learn a little about the actors as in their former professions and Oikawa only ever seems to get a mention for his constant use of POV shots, with comparisons to Giallo cinema and Teruo Ishii. So with very little to say about the film they talk about many irrelevent topics, including love hotels, apartment blocks, high school reunions and so on, which never have any real baring on the actual film. Other than that we have a few conversations about social issues, which would be fine if the film actually did anything to address these in a proper manner. It’s usually something that’s used as an excuse to try and conceal a terrible movie, but some people buy into it I guess.

Moving on to the Special Features menu we have a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Tokyo Psycho, which runs for just over 6 minutes and features some brief cast interviews, green screen shooting and jovial capers. Premiere footage follows next, consisting of interviews with cast members, director and screenwriter. This naturally covers a few areas of interest such as the inspiration behind the film, and makes some excuses for how we see society today, along with a couple of anecdotes thrown in but it’s all too brief at 5 minutes in length. You’ll also find smaller extras in the form of poster and still galleries, biographies for Oikawa, Hirayama and Kokubu and production notes. As usual with Panik House these aren’t actually production notes, more of a promotional piece for the film followed by two quotes from DVD websites, one of which just happens to be from our very own Anthony Nield (which is DVDTimes.co.uk by the way lads). True Crime: The Inspiration for Tokyo Psycho by Selwyn Harris looks at two real life cases that served inspiration for the film. One looks at the otaku murderer - an obssessed collector of adult themed movies who killed four young girls and mutilated their bodies between 1988 and 1989, while the other is about Hirouki Tsuchida, who in 2003 beat his mother to death and cited Neon Genesis Evangelion as the reason for it. These are graphic articles which detail the disgusting acts more than they do in revealing anything else about the killers themselves. There are also trailers for Tokyo Psycho, Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf and Screwed - two future Panik House releases?


Overall

I’m shocked that this is being labelled alongside anything that David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick have ever touched. There are no compelling comparisons here to warrant such blatant disregard. I am perplexed as to why this is being so well received amongst many, because aside from a mere 30 seconds this offers nothing worth savouring. It wouldn’t matter if it was based upon a hundred real life murder cases: it’s shit – unless you dig recurring dolly shots and close-ups of doors.

I hope that in future Panik House avoid tat such as this; it’s a shame to see it happen off the back of their superb “Pinky Violence” releases, likewise as is the poor attention to A/V quality. We already have enough companies releasing dire V-Cinema horror; we don’t need a promising one joining them.

*Thanks to Anthony Nield for making the R1/R0 comparison possible.

Film
2 out of 10
Video
5 out of 10
Audio
6 out of 10
Extras
5 out of 10
Overall

5

out of 10

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