I think it goes without saying that Japanese filmmakers don?t shy away from the bizarre. In fact, they seem to have some uncanny ability to not only whole heartedly embrace the unusual, but to use it to their advantage, subtly and seamlessly weaving its mystifying qualities into their cinema, creating films which are much less straightforward, and therefore more perplexing, than similar examples from their American and European counterparts. In the past few years alone, directors such as Katsuhito Ishii (Funky Forest, The Taste Of Tea), Sion Sono (Strange Circus, Suicide Club), Gen Sekiguchi (Survive Style 5+), Sakichi Sato (Tokyo Zombie), and the infamous Takashi Miike (too many weird movies to mention) have thrown us for a loop with oddball films that come from every corner of the genre spectrum, from straight horror to thrillers, brutal crime to family dramas. Up next in the legacy of Japanese oddities is Wicked Flowers, the debut from director Torico, a mysterious tale of a young man whose life gets turned upside down as seemingly mundane everyday events inexplicably lead him into much sinister territory.
Miroku is the epitome of a slacker, relying entirely on his parents to pay his bills while he is dormant for days at a time, existing solely on delivered pizzas while he plays video games for marathon lengths, the thought of leaving the house to look for a job never even entering his mind. One odd day when he has actually left his apartment, he accepts a promotional sample of tissues handed to him by a strange looking girl on the street. When he opens the freebies out of necessity later that day (because he?s run out of toilet paper), he finds an advertisement for some sort of contest with a hefty monetary prize, as well as a website address in order to enter.
Seeing the opportunity to make some easy money, he naturally signs himself up, and soon receives instructions to show up at a rather sketchy looking abandoned building on a specific date and time in order to participate. Everything seems innocent enough, however, and Miroku enters and meets with the people running the competition. But before he?s able to realize exactly what?s going on and back out, he?s informed that he?s been drugged and will now be forced to partake in their malicious game in order to receive the antidote.
Escorted by armed guards in kabuki animal masks, Miroku must watch a series of bizarre vignettes acted out on a small stage in each of the rooms he is taken to, before a dice spitting rabbit puppet is wheeled out to determine where he will be taken next. His goal is to use these confusing skits to help determine why he?s being held captive, and he only has twelve hours to do so. Along the way he meets an equally eccentric cast of other ?contestants?, and it isn?t long before he begins to realize that they might all be there for a reason, and that it might be no coincidence that he was handed that sample pack of tissues to begin with.
If this all sounds like a more scholarly version of Saw, with victims trapped and made to contemplate how it all might relate to them personally, that?s because the film does bear a passing resemblance to horror?s newest successful franchise at times, but with much less brutality and gore. However, Wicked Flowers is far from a simple clone. It takes the basic premise of a twisted game where the prize is your life and combines it with elements from the aforementioned Suicide Club (subliminal messages, underground websites), the visual imagery of David Lynch, and even a nod to David Fincher?s psychological thriller The Game of all things.
The film does a good job of tossing around the plot in order to keep the viewer from figuring out just where it?s headed, and when the final twist is revealed, it does come as a surprise, something of rarity in today?s climate of formulaic rehashes and remakes. It?s nice to see a first time filmmaker from Japan not take the easy way out and make another tired entry in the vengeful ghost subgenre that his country has become known for, and while the film may not be startlingly original, it works at the very least as a creatively executed conglomeration of ideas which may not have otherwise been collected. J-horror fans wanting something other than Ringu/Ju-On carbon copies would be wise to give this film a look.
Wicked Flowers is playing as part of the '07 Philadelphia Film Festival.