Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Guard From Underground (1992)

The Guard From Underground (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1992)
Japanese Title: Jigoku no keibîn

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is one of my favorite contemporary Japanese directors. All of his works after Cure are flat-out masterpieces (yes, even the much-maligned Bright Future), and one can only acknowledge Kurosawa's filmmaking as defiantly interesting, and never boring (yes, even in the much-maligned Bright Future). He's almost done everything. He started with soft core pornography, made a musicale, toyed with horror, drama, yakuza, science fiction, and the like, and he always manages to come up with something good. Kurosawa's The Guard From Underground is him seeking inspiration from one of his favorite American directors, Tobe Hooper (Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre is said to be one of Kurosawa's favorite films), in crafting a uniquely Japanese slasher flick.

The Guard From Underground is set in an office building where beautiful museum curator Akiko Narushima (Makiko Kuno) is starting out to work as an expert adviser to the newly formed department that is tasked in trading in paintings for the corporation. The same day she first reports for work, a newly hired guard arrives. The guard, with an imposing height and frame, is Fujimaru (Yutaka Matsushige), a former sumo wrestler who is currently being sought out by the police for murdering his sumo colleague and his lover. It is never clear why the ex-wrestler is insanely bashing everybody's heads, or how he got the job as a security guard, despite the fact that he is being hunted down, and he is quite famous for being in all the newspapers. There's a correct assumption that logic needs to be thrown out the window for an hour and a half, and one just has to enjoy the brutal murders that will ensue within the corporate building.

The Guard From Underground comes from Kurosawa's pre-Cure days, meaning it was during the time that Kurosawa's films weren't thought-out, philosophically stimulating fare. It's almost impossible to justify The Guard From Underground in intelligent discourse as the enjoyment from watching the film doesn't emanate from the brain, but from the senses. For a low budget flick, the film is visually alluring. The corporate building looks more like an abandoned hospital, with its hallways narrow and unkempt, and its rooms deliver a feeling that pain and suffering must've happened within its walls. Kurosawa doesn't let his budgetary constraints lessen his film and instead shoots the hallways, the rooms, with quiet tension, his camera wading through the little spaces and catching the dastardly events in teasing detail. His brutality isn't showing the blood splurting out, or limbs getting chopped off and thrown out ala Takashi Miike, but instead, Kurosawa relishes in quick yet boisterous attacks to the senses. I guess that's the reason why his guard's weapon of choice is a club, or any blunt object. There's a lot more cringe to be garnered from hearing bones breaking, and skulls smashing than in actually seeing them.

Kurosawa populates the office building with a horde of queer characters. There's Akiko's officemates, an overly enthusiastic lady, an overly friendly man, a quiet and seemingly useless balding guy, and a sexual pervert for a boss. The human resources head is Hyodo (Hatsunori Hasegawa), who is quick to complain about his employees personality faults but can't see that he's squandering corporate money while he sleeps at work. There's really no point detailing these characters as complex human beings with feelings and emotions, since they're all dead by the time the film ends. It's quite clear that Kurosawa isn't interested in these characters, but instead, delights in the act of filmmaking. His filmmaking clearly overshadows the material. He washes the material with an over-the-top musical score that properly labels the screenplay as low-end fare, but in a way, Kurosawa's not taking the material seriously vitalizes the entire affair. There's one clever scene wherein Akiko is trapped inside the library, and the backdoor suddenly shakes and rattles, causing Akiko to panic. The sequence is shot interestingly, an example of the visceral terror Kurosawa is capable of, even though the scene belongs nowhere in the film's logic. The Guard From Underground is nowhere near the masterpieces Kurosawa will eventually make, but having said that, it's still watchable fare, at least for Kurosawa completists like me.

This review is my contribution to the Kiyoshi Kurosawa Blog-a-Thon at The Evening Class.


Anonymous said...

i am missing the star meter rating you had from your xanga site. why the exclusion here in your blospot?

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi there,

Thanks for the comment... I don't like to constrain my writing with the star system. I'm thinking about putting the star ratings in my alphabetical list, but I'll just update when I've decided. I hope you'll still read my writings though.


Anonymous said...

yes of course i would still read your reviews as i enjoyed it very much. i also use this as reference to select which movies to download. hehehe...
where do you get your movies?

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks, it'd really be nice if you did introduce yourself too so I know who my readers are. I mostly download the films through emule, but of course, I also view some using legal means... hehe

Maya said...

Oggs, thanks so much for reviving this review as a contribution to the Kiyoshi Kurosawa Blogathon! I've not seen this early film of his and hope to catch it in a retrospective someday. I like what you say about the illogic of Kurosawa's universes. Once, hearing him speak about Doppelganger, he asked his audience if they noticed anything missing from the film. After a few false answers, he admitted that police were missing from the film's universe, making it all the more easy for the doppelganger to wreak havoc.

Interesting to consider that, without consequence, criminality can veer into the creative.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thank you too,

I wish Kiyoshi would visit the Philippines in the future; perhaps to screen Tokyo Sonata in the Cinemanila Film Festival (It's not far-fetched. I remember Hiroki Ryuichi introducing Vibrator a few years back; Quentin Tarantino did the same plus brought his collection of B-movies last year). He seems genuinely interested in imparting more about his films.

Noel Vera said...

Oggs, check out License to Live, if you haven't already. And haven't you already seen The Excitement of the Do Re Mi Fa Girls? I think you did.

Don't miss the star ratings at all, myself. Much prefer the site without them.

Oggs Cruz said...

I haven't seen License to Live yet; The Excitement of the Do Re Mi Fa Girls is wild fun, but I need to see it again, to write about it. I hope to source a better copy. I remember dozing off when I saw a few of Kurosawa's older films when they screened for the Eiga Sai a few years back; now I'm regretting it. Hopefully, the Japanese Embassy gives me another chance and does another retrospective of his works.

Star ratings are limiting, and they remind me of hotels.