Sodom the Killer Review
In the early 18th Century, Lord Ichibei Sodom (Takashi Urai) is preparing to wed his beloved. However, the day that should bring unbridled happiness soon turns into one of utter horror and despair, as his bride suddenly dies before they can exchange any further words. A servant of Ichibei informs his master that he had found a voodoo doll nearby and that only two people had access to his wife to be’s room: Katherine (Aki Miyata) and Therese (Rena Komine), and so he instantly orders their deaths, uncaring toward their seemingly innocent protests. In their dying breath, Katherine and Therese promise to haunt Ichibei from the grave, placing a curse on him and future generations of his family.
300 years later, ten-year-old Ichiro Sodom (Takashi Urai), a descendant of Ichibei Sodom, seems to be a normal young chap, but he’s already inadvertently killed three people and worries that he may never marry when he’s older. His sister Katherine, a reincarnate from the Katherine of 300 years ago, tells him that if he finds no one else then she will be his bride. Cut to 20 years later and a grown-up Ichiro is getting ready to marry. Unfortunately for him his sister Katherine poisons all of the guests and unleashes the curse upon him, turning him into the blind and hate filled “Sodom no Ichi”. In his rage he kills Katherine, but he places her in a coffin and vows to bring her back to life and take over the world. In his ultimate quest to bring the world to its knees he elicits the help of fake psychic Matilda (Shoko Nakahara) and poor, hungry citizens, who help him to round up Japan’s greatest neurologist: Dr. Matsumura (Kanji Tsuda) and scientist Dr. Shibutani so that he may control the world with dark magic and science, affecting the economy with rising inflation in the process. Only two people can stop him: Therese, who has now been reincarnated as a police officer, and her partner Hebikichi (Kichii Sonobe). They must now race against time in a bid to prevent Sodom from carrying out his dastardly plan of world domination.
Fans of Japanese horror should know the name Hiroshi Takahashi. He wrote the screenplay to 1998’s highly influential Ringu and its subsequent sequels, which were originally based on the work of author Koji Suzuki. Takahashi helped to set a trend in modern horror cinema and despite a slew of endless imitators over the course of the past ten years Ringu remains largely unchallenged in its field. In light of such an achievement, then, how does one actually create a new story with the hopes of surpassing the sheer intensity of such an original and seminal piece of work? Well, rather smartly Hiroshi Takahashi makes no such attempts to do so. Instead he breaks down the horror genre altogether, spices it up with light action and in turn pokes fun at two genres which have certainly grown a little stale in recent years. Despite its foreboding title, Sodom the Killer is actually a riotous comedy feature, which keeps its tongue firmly in cheek for the duration of its run time and shows Takahashi successfully going against modern conventions with the aim of ultimately entertaining all the same.
To enjoy Sodom the Killer to the absolute fullest you have to understand that its approached with a singular attitude and that is anything goes in order to achieve ultimate chaos. Granted its low-budget, DV origins may suggest that everything Takahashi attempts to portray is terribly amateurish, although while this is indeed his debut outing as a director there’s never any doubt as to his self awareness. You can’t honestly be expected to negatively criticise its presentation for one thing. Takahashi employs some of the most hilariously awful special effects ever seen; it’s not so much as “so bad it’s good”, because it’s a genius undertaking. It’s simply good. Sodom the Killer derives most of its humour from a visual basis. Here we have dodgy rear-screen projection to aid the likes of an attack on the Shinkansen; toy aeroplanes being used to carry out an air raid; and blatantly obvious life-sized dolls being used as stunt doubles, amongst a host of other cheap effects including modified cars with cannons mounted on their roofs and pieces of sets left in direct frame, resulting in plenty of intended belly laughs. The crew uses everything at their disposal and obviously care little about maintaining an air of consistency and authenticity (as the modern basement stairs in Ichibei’s old castle testifies). Meanwhile in the background we have Hiroyuki Nagashima’s inspired scoring, channelling the likes of Ennio Morricone’s Sergio Leoni westerns for our heroes’ main theme, while swinging jazz and light percussion continues on in pushing such fantastic absurdities to the extreme.
The key of course - much like the best comedy features out there - is that most of it is played as straight-faced as possible as characters run amok throughout a congested narrative which offers moments of social satire, whilst also relying on a heavy amount of crazy coicidences. Sodom the Killer works all the better as a series of events in which its actors permanently go against the grain, camping it up and carrying out actions that are far too ridiculous, yet so brilliantly staged it’s hard not to find amusement. The title character of Sodom for instance, who is blind (except he can see cats, dogs, trees and flowers) fumbles his way from location to location, tripping over obstacles while his loyal followers guide him toward carrying out his nefarious plan. Meanwhile trigger happy cutie-cop Therese chases him down at every turn and ends up doing more damage than good, mainly accidentally shooting helpless bystanders before barely shrugging it off and running away from the scene of the crime. Every participant has a proper role to play and it’s down to their individual talents and strong sense of comic timing that the film works as remarkably well as it does.
Tokyo Shock’s transfer of Sodom the Killer is pretty much representative of most digital video productions on DVD, at least of the many Japanese one’s I have seen. The main thing is the film being interlaced (probably a pull-down option associated with this type of source material), which also results in some ghosting. Aliasing is also a recurring problem, though it’s not too distracting, while halos and spots of macro blocking do rear their ugly head. Otherwise the 1.33:1 transfer doesn’t look too shabby, offering a good amount of detail, accurate skin tones and acceptable contrast and black levels.
Not surprisingly the only audio option consists of Japanese 2.0, and there’s very little to say other than it’s totally fine. There’s no discreet separation when listening through a 5.1 set up; dialogue, music and effects are channelled the same through each speaker. Concentrating solely on the front channels, then, these separate elements are each reproduced clearly, with no sound drop outs. The film’s score is lively throughout and never drowns out the dialogue, which remains clean and sharp.
Optional English subtitles are available, offering an excellent translation with no grammatical errors to speak of.
There’s not a great deal here, but what there is is fun. An ominous teaser trailer is first up, barely giving away anything, while the more notable premiere footage, running for thirteen minutes, offers some enjoyable insights. It’s a rather intimate affair, being staged in a small room, but director Takahashi and his eager cast lovingly talk about their experiences working on the film, reminiscing and telling funny anecdotes. Finally there are trailers for ID, Black Kiss, Japanese Hell and Frankenstein Conquers the World.
Tokyo Shock’s cover for Sodom the Killer is somewhat misleading, what with its “from the creator of Ringu” tag and emphasis on satanic violence. While Hiroshi Takahashi’s debut outing is a violent – albeit toned down - affair, it’s entirely played for laughs, which sees its creator take a complete U-Turn in proving his worth as a wickedly humorous writer and director. Those curious in checking out some of Japan’s low-key digital productions certainly shouldn’t go wrong with this crazy freestyle outing.
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