Screened at the 2012 Terracotta Far East Film Festival.
Japanese auteur Toshiaki Toyoda returns with “Monsters Club”, following up the likes of “Blue Spring” and “The Blood of Rebirth” with more avant-garde alienation and angst. Apparently inspired by Toyoda having read the lengthy manifesto of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, the film follows a young man called Ryoichi (played by Eita, recently in Takashi Miike’s “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai”), who has rejected modern society and lives a self-sufficient existence in a small cabin deep in the snow covered mountains. From here he builds and sends bombs to corrupt corporate CEOs and television networks, seeing his actions as part of a necessary war against oppression. While out hunting in the forest one day he meets a strange creature (designed and played by Japanese visual artist Pyuupiru), and is afterwards visited by the spirits of his dead brothers, one of whom committed suicide. These visions bring back memories of his family and tragic past, pushing him to confront his own demons and try to make sense of his life and the choices he has made.
Despite its title and subject matter, “Monsters Club” is resolutely not a horror film, a point insisted upon by writer director Toyoda. Instead, it attempts a portrait of an isolated, possibly unhinged young man who has constructed a particularly extreme method for coping emotionally and spiritually with life. The influence of Toyoda’s reading of the Unabomber’s writings is clear throughout, and the film often feels like a proclamation of intent itself, with long stretches of soliloquy style voiceovers in which Ryoichi rails against society and the enslavement of citizens, frequently referring to the high Japanese rate of suicide which sees over 33,000 people taking their lives each year. This is mixed in with poetry readings, in particular of the works of Kenji Miyazawa and long tracts of silence as Ryoichi goes about his daily business, and as a result the film is pretty far from a traditional viewing experience, and can be quite hard going at times.
However, while this marks the film as not being for everyone and opens it to accusations of pretentiousness, this isn’t much of a criticism as it’s clearly in line with Toyoda’s ambitions, and such a semi-obtuse approach will be familiar to fans of his earlier works. As with his other films, despite its existential weirdness, “Monsters Club” is by no means cold or emotionally detached, and though dark and depressing does a very engaging and surprisingly humanistic job of getting inside the head of its protagonist. Eita turns in a strong performance as the seemingly controlled Ryoichi, his visions gradually revealing or at least suggesting at the reasons for his behaviour, deeply rooted in the tragic fates which befell members of his family. At the same time though, Toyoda avoids anything too obvious, and the film builds to an abstract rather than cathartic conclusion, something which again may prove frustrating for the casual viewer.
The film has a very pronounced look and feel throughout, and comes across at times like a piece of visual poetry, especially during its scenes in the gorgeous snow blanketed mountains and forests, which serve well to underline the theme of isolation. The film is atmospheric, in a bleak kind of way, and clocking in at just 72 minutes moves along at a decent pace, never losing its focus or intensity. The monsters when they appear are startling and effective, and though the film does stray a little too much into symbolism and meaningfulness with their look, especially during the later stages, they again help to visualise its themes and air of psychological trauma.
Although there’s no denying that “Monsters Club” is not an easy film, for those willing to keep an open mind and put in a little effort it certainly has its rewards. Lyrical and beautiful in its own way, it confirms Toshiaki Toyoda as one of the most interesting and talented directors working in Japanese cinema today, if perhaps not one of the most accessible.
Toshiaki Toyoda (director) / Toshiaki Toyoda (screenplay)
CAST: Eita … Ryoichi Kakiuchi
Ken Ken … Kenta Kakiuchi
Yôsuke Kubozuka … Yuki Kakiuchi
Jun Kunimura … Ryoichi’s father
Mayuu Kusakari … Mikana Kakiuchi
Miyuki Matsuda … Ryoichi’s Mother