Director: Ataru Oikawa
Screenplay: Ataru Oikawa and Noriko Tanimura
Cast: Sachiko Kokubu (as Yumiko Oosawa); Seiji Chihara (as Keisuke Kataoka); Yuka Hayashi (as Mika Nakahara); Mizuho Nakamura (as Moe Masumoto); Masashi Taniguchi (as Osamu Komiya)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #107
If it comes off as an inherent bias, I apologise, but I find the modern extremely low budget films from Japan to be more interesting than a lot of the ones from English speaking countries. I'm concentrating specifically, to borrow the name of a great podcast I listen to, on "no budget nightmares" from after the year 2000 which are shot on digital cameras and are genre films with whatever resources the filmmakers could get hold of. That's not to say as well there's no god-awful garbage coming from Japan either - hello Zombie Self-Defense Force (2006). It very much strays into how genre filmmaking in Japan always has an invention to it for me barring the worst cases and that, no matter how strange and pedantic it might sound on page, this virtue even goes to how distinct the films look in terms of what cameras were even used to film them in appearance.
A large part of its the tone. Sadly irony started to infect the Japanese genre films after the Millennium, bad style for the sake of a deliberate joke, tainting the sincerity of a lot of modern entries in contrast to the older ones (from Sushi Typhoon productions to the likes of Big Tits Zombie (2010)). Thankfully in most cases there's sincerity in most Japanese films still, a pervading sense even when there's material so bizarre it would be impossible to take seriously, or the films have broad slapstick and deliberately weird jokes in them, that its almost cultural custom to always take the material seriously and accept whatever happens on screen nonchalantly with a shrug of the shoulders. This inate quirk even manages to negate traits that could undermine extremely low budget productions from the US like bad CGI or wooden acting, even able to make these virtues or artistic flourishes on the most impoverished of budgets. Tokyo Psycho is far from one of the better examples of this, but expecting my revisit of this film to be a complete demolishing of my like of it on the first viewing, it's more meaning to enjoy it on its own wavelength than worry about its obvious shortcomings.
Effectively it's a lurid pot-boiler as made in pure minimalism due to its low budget quality. A young woman Yumiko Oosawa (Sachiko Kokubu) is receiving sinister letters and packages from a stalker, likely a student from her high school years she rejected, managing with small means to have charm, a word that's weird to say considering how nasty the plot gets, even as far as the aforementioned letters being woven with metal wire and blood like stains, but fitting for a film with its pluck that could've gone horribly wrong in production. It's only when its deliberately playing itself up as a lurid low budget nightmare - a body lunges forward to stare at the audience, a bad CGI switching of a character's face - where the worst associations I'd presume this sort of film would have are shown, something which doesn't try to be inventive regardless of its low budget and coming of as low rent and not taking itself seriously. Thankfully it's in a different place of a low budget film that isn't perfect but at least gets a lot more right than films three times its budget with well worn material.
Because of its minimalism it actually has a perversely distinct style to it. Where the characters are vaguely interesting even if some, like the single mother who lives next to the protagonist who may be abusing her young daughter, aren't fully delved into. A language barrier does admittedly exist in terms of whether any of these particularly performances are any good, but you do get a creepy psychodrama nonetheless that's got some grit to it. This is also as much to do with how the film looks and where it was shot. There's also an appeal in these films in terms of where they're actually located, the extremely low budget Japanese films I've see, even those shot almost entirely in someone's living room, utter fascinating for me and not just out of a curiosity of a country whose culture I absorb a great deal of.
There's inherently something that stands out in the type of environments in these Japanese films, even the back lots with more weeds than grass, and a large part of it isn't just the aesthetic for Japanese public environments, the signs to the placement of exteriors and interiors, but even in how they're shot, more colourful and brighter to an advantage even in the dullest of industrial environments. It might seem trite or borderline on the obsessively weird to denote a paragraph to this, but one of the biggest hindrances for a low budget genre film I've countered is that there's really a sense of immersion into these movies by where they're set, something any film can achieve on any budget if there's an thought put into it. With a long history of very lo-fi productions, especially in the pinku softcore industry, which took advantage of its disadvantages and minimal locations, it's not surprising even the non-erotic films like Tokyo Psycho are just as entertaining for this too.
Particularly with lower expectations revisiting this film, there's a sense of greater respect when Tokyo Psycho manages to accomplish skills films with significantly longer budgets fail with. There's an actual sense of grossness that tactile, and actually helped by being shot on digital on a low budget, letters and tokens sent to the protagonist with metal wire sewn through them or actual worms being found within them, the most distinct of these a shrine for a corpse which uses Christmas lights and a sinister music box chime. The side characters, even if their appearances on screen are slight, don't feel like ciphers with little of interest between them and are at least memorable for their tiny parts, from her likable boss who's between playfully mocking her and a possible flirtation, to a female detective whose more likely to be scared of an ominous isolated corridor than the heroine is. It gets together a group of actors just for one segment, set at a school reunion in the early part of the narrative, which looks like it would've been a challenge to organise even if the cast's within what looks like a darkened warehouse with an almost art installation minimalism in the decor and lighting. At least the cast is willing to participate fully - the killer when revealed is played by an actor who decided to chew the scenery and stands out as the best part of the film because of it, whilst Sachiko Kokubu has to endure actual worms being inserted into her mouth and submerging herself fully, head under the water, in the sea at the beach regardless of how cold the location looks onscreen. At least the film is less than eighty minutes, avoiding a pitfall in many of these low budget films in being far too long. And at least the film is entertaining.