God's Left Hand, Devil's Right Hand

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/02/06 11:28:43

"You've got to work harder than this to make killing kids worth watching."
1 stars (Sucks)

SCREENED AT THE 2006 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Director Shusuke Kaneko opens the film by dedicating it to his late mentor, Hiroyuki Nasu, which seems like a very poor way to respect the dead. Kaneko took the film over after Nasu's death, and whether you feel that Nasu would have done a better job with the film or that it's so flawed at a basic level that his dying before he could shoot it rather than after was a kindness, he probably deserves better than having his name tied to this miserable bit of nastiness.

Six year-old Sou Yamabe (Tsubasa Kobayashi) has terrible nightmares involving grisly murders, a recurring one being where he's a little girl who can't walk. He confides in his teenage sister Izumi (Asuka Shibuya), who witnesses one come to horrible life, leaving Sou missing a lot of blood and in the hospital. Then it starts for her, as Sou appears in her dreams to cryptically guide her to another town, where Yoshiko Tani (Ai Maeda) is searching for a lost friend. Meanwhile, bedridden little Momo (Momoko Shimizu) eagerly awaits the new storybooks her father (Tomorowo Taguchi) gives her. They're grimmer than Grimm, always seeming to end with a troublemaking teenage girl being brutally murdered. Hmmm.

When a movie more or less opens with a sharp object emerging from inside a sad little first-grader to leave him all but dead in a pool of his own blood, it's almost guaranteed to make a strong first impression. For me, it was disgust, followed by the crushing realization that horror films try to top themselves, and we were only ten minutes in. What's going to be worse than this?

The script, it turns out. And some of the production values. I can handle a certain amount of ugly if it's not joined at the hip with dumb, but the writing for this thing is just deeply stupid. Izumi is discovered standing over her throat-slit brother, but she seems to be able to move pretty freely; no matter how broken up she appears, if I were the police officer investigating the case, I'd be watching her like a hawk. Which he tries, later, after she's taken a train halfway across the country. And her sleuthing is heavily based on cryptic messages coming to her in dreams, which I hate with a passion. It takes away from the characters' own resourcefulness and makes the writer's hand painfully visible. Not to mention that the clues always seem to be outright designed to lead Izumi into a couple of cheap-shocking false starts before she stumbles onto the right one. Yoshiko and her mother also seem ridiculously trusting of this girl who shows up out of nowhere. Though they're not as dumb as the two girls that stumble into a random barn filled with cake and decide to help themselves. Momo's eager anticipation of her father's next storybook at the beginning doesn't exactly jibe with her nonplussed look when she gets to bloody endings.

And while banging the back of my head against the seat top from the inane events which are piled one on top of the other, I wasn't exactly getting relief from the way the story is executed. The whole thing looks cheap, from the B-quality acting jobs to the mayhem. I can't quite put my finger on what was wrong with them, but all the kills seemed a little off. Maybe a shot lingered a split-second too long and it was thus more clear that Taguchi was decapitating a mannequin, or an slashing axe wound would spray blood from a single point source. It sounds silly to nitpick that sort of thing, but when a movie like this isn't working, you notice that.

And this really wasn't working for me. Maybe it's because I'm not keen on paying for the privilege of watching violence perpetrated against kids, but the nonsensical plot and B-quality execution didn't help at all. I read that Kaneko and company actually wanted to make a statement about crime against kids, but I don't think this film really does that (the ending in particular is a cop-out). It winds up just feeling like nothing more than cheap exploitation. There may be a way to make a great, thought-provoking movie out of this, or at least an exciting one, but this isn't it.

To be fair - I'd seen about seven movies that could have qualified as serial killer movies at the festival so far, and basically had had enough. Even if I hadn't been exhausted by the genre, though, all this seemed to offer was younger victims, and I didn't need that.

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