Daisuke YamanouchiHiroshi KitasenjuSheena NagamoriMayumi Ookawa
Red Room
Medium: film
Year: 1999
Writer/director: Daisuke Yamanouchi
Keywords: ero-guro, boobs, horror, favourite
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Hiroshi Kitasenju, Sheena Nagamori, Mayumi Ookawa, Yuuki Tsukamoto
Format: 68 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0371516/
Website category: J-sleaze
Review date: 24 February 2011
Not as good as Red Room 2. It's too short to manage to feel like a real movie, since it's missing a third act which it had seemed to be building up to. It's a good fifteen minutes shorter than Red Room 2, which hurts it. However it's just as gross, sexually depraved and psychologically twisted, so whichever of the two you watch first, you'll probably be watching the sickest film you've ever seen.
There was something of a boom in ultra-violent cinema in Japan around this time. These ranged from serious-minded attempts at the "snuff movie investigation" genre (Muzan-E) to goofy nonsense (Kyoko vs. Yuki). I've heard it said that Red Room is more extreme than the now-illegal Guinea Pig films, which seems plausible. However it's also got a psychological hook that, for me, makes it fascinating. For those who didn't see my review of Red Room 2, this series's premise is that somewhere in Japan is played the King Game. Four people take it in turns to choose a card, each of which either bears a king or a number. Whoever drew the king can give orders to the others, which must be obeyed to the letter or else the non-obeying person is out of the game. There are also props that can be used... a hair dryer, a lightbulb, etc. The winner is the last person still playing the game, usually because the others are dead or dying.
There are restrictions, of course. The orders expire after a time limit, usually between three and five minutes. The king also can't pick on specific people, but instead must specify which numbered person will do what without having seen the cards everyone drew. Otherwise, anything goes. The first few orders will be comparatively tame, but they'll soon degenerate into sexual violence and insane horror. Surprisingly, the best orders are often the open-ended ones that let the participants use their imaginations. These people are playing the game voluntarily. They're sick. Use that sickness.
This of course gets incredibly nasty, not to mention sleazy. There's more sex even than Red Room 2 and that was hardly something to show your grandmother. It ends up feeling almost like a sex film, although if you find these scenes arousing then there's something scarily wrong with you.
However the film still works as a film. It's all about the psychology. These people could walk away at any time, but they don't because they want to win the money. You won't see scenes like this anywhere else, in which people are letting themselves be tortured and not even resisting, instead just bottling up their hatred and pain to unleash on the others when it becomes their turn. Well, if they live that long, of course. They're all unlikeable, which again would be fixed in Red Room 2, but this doesn't matter because soon you're aghast at what they're doing to each other and it's become a study of how broken and evil we'll let ourselves become under the wrong circumstances. I presume the cast are porn stars and none of them went on to have mainstream film careers, but they find some scary intensity. Seriously, the acting's good. I really got into the characters and their differing motivations and breaking points.
There are four protagonists, two of whom are a married couple. Yes, that's right. He's spineless and trying to be polite and nice, while she openly despises him and snubs him at every opportunity. Those two in the cage together. I was terrified. Then the other two are a bad girl with a secret and an office lady who doesn't seem to have money troubles and won't say why she's playing. It's not complex characterisation, but they're all being played to the hilt and rubbing up against each other in all kinds of bad ways. Furthermore one of them turns out to be mentally fragile.
Surprising definition of "lynch", by the way. Hmmm. I've just looked it up. Apparently it doesn't necessarily involve hanging.
The length is a problem. It had been looking really good and I'd been looking forward to where it was all going next, until suddenly there's a slightly silly rushed ending. Whoops, all over. That should have been more intense. Tack on a third act and you'll not only reach the length of the sequel, but also make this feel more like a real movie. As it is, it doesn't. I think it's great, but even I think it stinks a bit too much of exploitation. However on the upside, at least it doesn't have that mad plot twist we got towards the end of Red Room 2, instead having one that comes a lot earlier in the film and is merely adding another sexual angle rather than taking the film into a different genre. Personally I liked both, but I'm me. From that point of view, this original film is playing it fairly straight.
Overall, really good. It's chilling, sometimes funny and has disturbing sound effects. It has clear flaws that pull it down a bit, but Daisuke Yamanouchi would fix those with the sequel. Crucially though, it's all about the characters. Note the way in which they try to talk each other into quitting early on, with the housewife playing on the fact that she has children and Hiromi trying to sow seeds of doubt about whether the winner will really get the ten million. You've also got to admire the way in which the strong characters are women, while the man is an unlikeable loser whose sexual kinks are directly linked to the fact that he's broken in the head. Many people might call it sick porn, but if they gave it some thought they'd have to admit that it was also strongly feminist. Me, I thought it was outstanding.
If you have a friend who claims to like horror, try them on this.