Tokyo Gore School (2009) Movie Review

The imaginatively titled “Tokyo Gore School” is the latest outing for director Yohei Fukuda, who previously helmed the somewhat popular “Chanbara Beauty”, and worked as cinematographer on Kôji Shiraishi’s controversial shocker “Grotesque”. Touted as being the new “Battle Royale”, the film revolves around teen violence and murders, possibly as a means of offering social commentary on modern Japanese society, or possibly just as an excuse for entertaining carnage. Viewers can now decide for themselves, as the film arrives on region 2 DVD via Manga Entertainment.

J-pop boy band member Yusuke Yamada takes the lead role as Fujiwara, a high school student who is doing pretty well for himself with his studies, the girls, and fellow classmates. However, the good looking lad has a nasty side, and everything starts to change when his gang of goons bully an unfortunate student, who later throws himself off the school roof. One day not long after this, Fujiwara is suddenly attacked by a gang of other students who seem intent on taking his mobile phone. Although he manages to fend them off, he soon discovers that he has unwittingly become part of a violent game that is spreading through the youth of Japan, in which students are forced to fight each other for their phones, or face having their darkest personal secrets revealed to their peers.

Unsurprisingly, “Tokyo Gore School” turns out to be a rather inappropriate title, as despite its implications, similarities with Yoshihiro Nishimura’s classic “Tokyo Gore Police” are thin on the ground. The “Battle Royale” comparisons are also decidedly tenuous, as aside from the vague concept of students being conscripted into a deadly contest, the film has much more in common with the likes of youth oriented brawlers such as Miike Takashi’s “Crows Zero”. This of course is no bad thing, and there’s plenty of fun to be had in watching gangs of students beating the tar out of each other. Although the film is a bit overlong and lacking in variety, Yohei Fukuda has the good sense to keep the action coming, and most of the fight scenes are well handled and reasonably intense. Again, the title is misleading in its use of the word ‘gore’, as though the film is pretty brutal in places, there isn’t much in the way of splatter. Whilst on one hand this adds a certain air of realism, painting the screen just a little redder might have given the proceedings the kind of lunatic jolt needed to catapult the film into cult fame.

In terms of plot and theme, the film is interesting, though its central idea, of students being pushed to kill rather than reveal their secrets by an evil social networking scheme, may seem a little far fetched to some older viewers. Still, it does make for some very amusing scenes, perhaps unintentionally, with kids trying to beat each other to death to stop people from finding out surprisingly innocuous crimes such as having wet their pants back in junior school. The film is more successful in its depiction of Fujiwara as a fascinatingly immoral and increasingly unsympathetic figure. Although right from the start it is made clear that he at least has a mean streak, as the film edges towards his own dark secret, and by showing just how far he will go to ensure that it is kept from the others, this does push the viewer to wonder how they would behave in the same situation. Indeed, since he is really the only properly written character in the film, this gives things an engagingly uncomfortable feel, and though the wrap up is predictable and conventional, as a whole it does display a certain amount of ambition.

As such, though not the film suggested by its title or ad lines, “Tokyo Gore Police” is better than expected and should be enjoyed by all fans of Japanese cult cinema. Offering violence with a vague social conscience, whilst it might not deliver all out visceral thrills, it manages to be far more interesting than the average low budget gore fest.

Yôhei Fukuda (director) / Yôhei Fukuda, Kiyoshi Yamamoto (screenplay)
CAST: Masato Hyûgaji, Takafumi Imai, Kenta Itogi, Shinwa Kataoka, Kôhei Kuroda, Shion Machida, Shôichi Matsuda

Buy Tokyo Gore School on DVD