Goth: Love of Death (2008) Movie Review

“Goth: Love of Death” is director Takahashi Gen’s live-action adaptation of the award-winning novel by Japanese author Otsuichi, which had previously been adapted into a popular manga by artist Kendi Oiwa, and which has apparently been optioned for a Hollywood version. Thankfully, despite its title, the film is not concerned with depressed, makeup wearing vampire wannabes, but is a far more interesting affair, following a couple of outsider, death-obsessed teenagers who become entangled with a series of bizarre murders. Unsurprisingly given such potentially grim subject matter, the film is pretty bleak, though at the same time is engaging and even oddly moving. As such, it offers something very different to the usual Asian horror shenanigans, and its region 2 DVD release via 4Digital Asia is a welcome one indeed.

The film is set in the faceless suburbs of Tokyo, where a serial killer has been murdering young women, severing their left hands and leaving their bodies artistically posed in easy to find locations. His antics catch the eye of two high school students, the beautiful loner Morino (Takanashi Rin, recently in “Rookies”) and the popular, outwardly happy seeming Kamiyama (played by rising star Hongo Kanata, also in “K-20: The Fiend with Twenty Faces”), both of whom harbour a disturbing fascination with death, murder and human cruelty. After Morino finds what they believe to be the killer’s notebook, the two attempt to track him down, not to bring him to justice, but so that they can see the corpses for themselves before the police. Inevitably, the closer they come to their quarry and his victims, the more they put themselves at risk, testing the limits of their shared obsession.

“Goth: Love of Death” (elongated from its original Japanese title “Goth”) is hard to categorise, as although utterly morbid it is not really a horror film as such, making no attempt to scare, or even to really gross out the viewer. There are a few gruesome scenes scattered throughout, though much like its protagonists, the film is fixated on death and the act of murder from an aesthetic and philosophical point of view rather than for cheap thrills. This makes the premise far more interesting than it might otherwise have been, as does the fact that the constantly shifting relationship between Morino and Kamiyama genuinely feels like the hesitant bonding of two fringe dwellers rather than the kind of conventional teenage romance that would certainly not have rung true. Although the plot meanders, with most of the running time being taken up with the two talking in Morino’s gloomy café hang out spot or wandering around in search of dead bodies, it does work in a few twists along the way, and director Takahashi Gen manages a fair amount of tension once the question of the killer’s identity becomes a pressing issue. Even then, the film chooses not to take the easy route, and it never falls into traditional thriller territory, with a climax whose somewhat needless revelations are aimed at catharsis rather than narrative resolution. Morally, the film is bold and fascinating, with the characters clearly being uninterested in notions of right and wrong. This makes their quest all the more engaging and keeps the viewer guessing as to how far they are willing to go and what choices they will eventually make.

The film is beautiful in a fittingly ethereal fashion, with cinematographer Ishikura Ryuji making excellent use of light and shade to create an almost surreal world. Clearly seen from the point of view of its characters, the film exists in a space hanging on the edge of death, subtly filled with quietly sinister imagery, making for an ominous atmosphere throughout. The soundtrack complements this perfectly, being creepily ambient and nicely underscoring the growing tension with a disturbing mixture of innocence and threat.

This air of ambiguity pervades every aspect of “Goth: Love of Death” and makes it one of the most intriguing and original Japanese genre films of recent years. Morally challenging and visually striking, it draws the viewer into the morbid world of its alienated, emotionally complex characters, and is sure to be enjoyed by all fans of the macabre.

Gen Takahashi (director) / Otsuichi (novel “Goth: risutokatto jiken”), Gram, Takashi Hotta, Michio Kashiwada, Midori Saitô , Gen Takahashi (screenplay)
CAST: Kanata Hongô
Rin Takanashi
Mika Kamiya … Emi Ando
Chika Kumagai … Nishihara
Toshinobu Matsuo
Keishi Nagatsuka

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