Director: Tetsuo Shinohara
Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Kayako Kishimoto, Kanako Higuchi, Masanobu Ando
Karaoke Terror is a film that is a bit difficult to categorize. Adapted from a serial story by famed writer Ryu Murakami, Karaoke Terror features many of the things that are so sensationalist about his works; deviant thoughts, murder, and psycho-sexualization. With a quirky soundtrack of Showa-era hits, the film is equal parts musical revue and black comedy.
The basic premise of the film deals with two very different groups; the Midoris, named so because all the middle-aged and divorced women share the name Midori,and a group of young college-aged men. They aren’t all different however, both groups love karaoke, particularly singing ‘oldies,’ the Midoris in bars populated with young men, and the boys in costume with a sound system on a pier. Both groups live blissfully separate until the day one of the boys murders a member of the Midoris, because she rejected a sexual advance. With authorities unsure as to who is the culprit, the Midoris find a clue and successfully discover who the murderer is among the boys. In a carefully thought out execution, they complete a revenge murder which in turn spurs the boys to retaliate in kind. With an escalating series of deaths, the film turns more and more outlandish with murder being turned into a sort of release, all the while music references abound.
The acting is adequate, with young talent being showcased alongside more established veterans, however the sheer number of characters does limit the amount of screen time of many of the characters, especially those that are eliminated early on in the film. A large number of secondary characters definitely steal the show as they have the best lines and most memorable screen presence. A key component of many of Murakami’s works is the look into the thought processes of his characters. Unfortunately, the director tends to stay away from internal monologue in favor of physical acting and facial expressions. While definitely a more challenging choice for the actors, it can also at times be somewhat unclear as to each characters’ feeling when taking part in this grisly type of game.
The music is very solid with popular Western music being referenced as well as ‘oldie’ Japanese popular in much more use. Many artists I was unfamiliar with, but it was easy to get the reference when looking at the context in which the reference was made. In terms of violence, there are not too many scenes, though the killings are quite brutal and at the same time comical. Blood spurts in geysers like many swordplay fans will be accustomed to, and the murders themselves build quite a bit of tension as the viewer, as well as the perpetrators, wait for the targets final moments. The scenes between the destruction hint at the backgrounds of the characters, but there is never enough in each moment to fully develop any single character’s trait, outside of loyalty. In general, the viewer has to assume many things and while it is not too difficult to get to the correct conclusion, I find that motivation is only really established after the fact, and this kind of cheapens the premise of the film, that of revenge.
In conclusion, Karaoke Terror is an oddity of a film, straddling the line of comedy and macabre social commentary on generational and gender conflicts. It is a film that has quite an bigamous ending and in many ways the ending can be seen as artistic or just non-sensical, I feel arguments can be made for both. In the end, this film was quite difficult to review and describe, but for those willing to take a chance, you may be pleasantly surprised at what this film has to offer.
You may like this if you are a fan of: revenge cinema, Ryu Murakami novels, and the dark humor of Ichi the Killer.