This is the second time I've watched this film. The first time, I loved it and bought the DVD. However I think that must have been partly a reaction to rock-bottom expectations, this being another deliberately camp Japanese schlock-fest along the lines of Tokyo Gore Police, etc. It's okay. It's amusing. However it's no Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl.
We saw it under unusual circumstances, incidentally. My wife and father-in-law had just flown in from Japan and we were just throwing films in the DVD player to fight jet lag. We thus watched this as the second half of a double bill with Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima, Oscar-nominated for best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. You won't see that movie combination too often.
In fairness, though, both films did the job. They're not boring. Gothic & Lolita Psycho is basically a very silly romp built around its fight scenes, but underneath the nonsense is a story that, with a little effort, you can take seriously. Yuki (Rina Akiyama) lives with her wheelchair-bound father (Yurei Yanagi) and kills bad guys. There are five of them. They broke into her parents' flat on her birthday to cripple her father and crucified her mother. In front of her. You can see how that would affect someone. Yuki in flashback is a normal teenage girl, but in the present she's a vengeance-driven killer in a goth-loli dress. (It's a bit like an all-black version of a Alice in Wonderland Victorian outfit, dripping with lace and carrying a parasol. Hair accessories might include flower headdresses, bunchies and ribbon headpieces.)
The original Japanese title says "executioner" rather than "psycho", by the way.
The fights are the main reason for the film's existence. It's built around them. They're outrageous. They're trying to make you laugh aloud, with highlights including the self-styled gaijin "kamikaze" squad (I nearly died), the mop-wielding yogic flying pervert and the eyepatch bimbo who can't stop talking on her mobile phone. If you think these scenes are funny, then you'll enjoy this film. If you think all that sounds unwatchable, then steer well clear. I thought they were a laugh. However the film does one important thing, which is to make Yuki's enemies cool and memorable in their own right. Eyepatch Bimbo wipes the floor with Yuki in laugh-out-loud style, while Yogic Flying Pervert manages to fight her to a standstill without even bothering to leave the lotus position. These fights are triumphantly silly, but they're also proper fights that put Yuki in real danger. (I note that the Japanese-speaking "kamikaze" squad are all played by professional stuntmen, for instance, who've since gone on to get proper work in Hollywood, albeit not usually as actors.)
So it's a silly film. Monty Python would approve. However it's also possible to take seriously its main character and her revenge quest, while the themes are genuinely interesting.
Unlike the villains, Yuki and her family aren't camp. They're being played straight, although that said I thought Yurei Yanagi was poor as her wheelchair-bound priest dad. (This is ironic since he's got a proper acting career, unlike almost everyone else here, and was for instance in the Ringu films.) He's convincingly nice, but taking his role fairly lightly even though the choices he's made should be heartbreaking. It's possible to take Yuki and her predicament seriously, despite the tone of the fight scenes.
Then we have the themes, which I honestly and non-ironically think are fascinating. They're being played to the hilt, too, which takes it to another level. Subtleties and subtext are being turned into text. Look at Yuki's old family life in the flashback. It's heaven. It's dazzling white with hymn-like choral incidental music and fuzzy lens filters, until the black-clad satanist monks burst in to stage a crucifixion. After that, Vengeance Yuki's present-day outfit is gothic and all-black, suggesting in itself that she's crossed a crucial line in her quest.
Priest Dad is kind of disturbing. He's a priest. He wears priest robes. He's a gentle, kind man... but he's encouraging his daughter in a serial murder quest and supplying her weapons. Is he a devil-worshipping anti-priest, perhaps? (If you've seen the film, you'll know that that's not a flippant question.)
Then the film's final fight is in a Black Church, with pentacles. We have demons and demon-slayers. We have moral inversions and possible themes of love, forgiveness and complicated identification of enemies. We have questions of evil vs. good. It's a really crunchy film to think about (albeit simple in its plotting) and in the end it even manages to be moving. I'd love to see a serious remake with proper actors that ditched the silliness and went hard for the meat of the story. (It'll never happen, but I'd still like to see it.)
This is a film you need to meet more than halfway. If you're watching in company, make sure everyone's like-minded. It's riotous nonsense in which a girl dressed like an entire Tim Burton film goes up against villains who get to win fights and be cool. If you try to take the fight scenes seriously, it'll kill you. Every time Tomoko looked at the screen, she saw a fresh reason to lower her already-lamentable opinion of my taste in movies. (There's no nudity, incidentally, although there are some panty shot jokes.) Oh, and the opening yakuza underground sin nightclub sequence perhaps goes on a bit long. However I believe it's possible to get stuck into the characters underneath the silliness, e.g. the victim who tries to apologise. On reflection, I'm very happy to own the DVD.
Previous review: 15 June 2013
It's another Japanese gore panto like The Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police, but only superficially. Yes, it's a string of ludicrous fight scenes. However it also has emotional integrity and a lead character who's playing it straight. I really liked it. I thought it was excellent. If you can get past the comedy splatter, you might find that Go Ohara has managed to sneak a genuinely worthwhile film into this defiantly, anarchically lowbrow genre.
Firstly, the title. It refers to two Japanese fashion styles. Lolita is frilly neo-Victorian with parasols, while Goth is Goth. All black, basically. It's not abnormal to do both at once, although to be honest I find the combination less freaky than Lolita on its own. It's a terminal overdose of Super-Girlie in pinks, pastels and blonde hair dye.
As for the last word, "shokeinin" sounds to me more like "executioner" than "psycho". That's important. This is a vengeance tale, not Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.
Anyway, Rina Akiyama plays the title role. We see flashback scenes enjoying a birthday with her parents, in which she's a normal teenage girl who at one point promises her mother that she'd never stop being kind and gentle. However she'd break that promise after five people kicked in the front door, crippled Akiyama's father (Yurei Yanagi) and crucified her mother (Fumie Nakajima). Well, ish. That's not really crucifixion. They nail her to the wall with swords. (Historical footnote: Japan used crucifixion as their standard method of capital punishment from the Sengoku period (1467-1573) onwards and they also used it to punish prisoners of war in World War Two.)
Akiyama takes this better than you'd expect, but only in the sense that you can tell she's still a kind-hearted, sensitive girl when she's with her now wheelchair-bound father. Cue dismemberment and geysers of blood. Yoshihiro Nishimura, Yuta Okuyama and Tsuyoshi Kazuno did the make-up and visual effects and if you've seen their other films, you'll have seen every kind of stupid nonsense currently imaginable.
If you've seen those other films (Mutant Girls Squad, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, etc), you might thus be expecting bubbleheaded nonsense. What's more, you wouldn't be entirely wrong. Akiyama has five principal targets and the even-numbered ones threatened to strain my patience. #2 is a Uri Geller pisstake and hamming up like a children's TV presenter. #4 is an unstoppable killing machine, but also a brain-dead kawaii bimbo. It took effort for me to persuade myself to accept her as a character in a film, instead of just stupidity. This is deliberate silliness, as also is the "Kamikaze Squad" of foreigners pretending to be Japanese. (I love the concept gag in that, though.) None of this is meant to be taken seriously.
However at the same time, there's often a harder edge than I'd expected. That backstory isn't funny at all. I believed in Akiyama, Yanagi and their pain. "If I can avenge my mother, I don't mind if I die." Furthermore, this is the year 20XX in a semi-dystopian future. Akiyama's first kill is in a yakuza club in Tokyo where the entertainment includes murder, torture and cage fighting. Admittedly it also has dancing girls in kimonos and that dice-based gambling game that dates the way back to the samurai era and you'll see in Zatoichi films, but the gamblers' stakes are, literally, stakes. Each player has three prisoners tied to wooden stakes, for a winning opponent to shoot.
This is nasty. It's not just the splatter-giggle that I'd expected, but something more serious.
Victim #3 is the strongest scene in the film, eschewing fisticuffs and instead addressing the ethics and emotional cost of revenge. That shocked me.
Finally there's the last target, who has a revelation that might be the most ridiculous thing in this ridiculous film. My immediate reaction was that this was too much. However it's what the film had been painstakingly building up to, while furthermore my assumptions were then turned on my head by where the film took this next. They're not just playing Goofy Monster Top Trumps. It's saying something important, I think. Look at Akiyama's parents, happy together at home in what's effectively a white void. Look at the religious imagery, both for god (Yanagi is a priest) and satanism. Look at what the film's saying about monsters and evil, and how it's undermining traditional black-and-white assumptions. I love it and I love what they do with Akiyama's character.
As so with many of these films, it's full of girl power. The women are the ones you'll remember (Akiyama, Yakuza Chick and Eyepatch Girl), although theoretically the film has a perfect 50-50 gender split in roles that aren't just cannon fodder. Actually, thinking about it, that's not quite right. I'll also remember the men who don't fight. They're good. As for exploitation, the film makes gags out of a few panty shots (Uri Geller has dodgy superpowers), but there's no nudity.
It also has an Asami cameo, which is another reason to love it.
I loved it. I believed in it. That said, its goofiness tested my patience on occasion and at the end of the day, it's still a gore panto. That's its genre. Japan has found yet another peculiar niche and for some years now its filmmakers have using it to give their country a terrible reputation with film snobs. However, as with 1970s Japanese porn, it has surprising variety and sometimes even depth... although I'd recommend neither for the squeamish. Sometimes they're terrible. Sometimes, as here, I'm impressed. You'll think I'm being ridiculous, but it got to me. An odd companion piece for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, perhaps?
"I hand down the verdict in the name of God."