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Film Review: Tokyo Gore School (2009)

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SYNOPSIS:

Shinichi Sanada, a young high school student, attempts to kill himself by jumping to his death. Shinichi survives but is seriously injured. Hayato Fujiwara (Yusuke Yamada), the High School Student President, senses there’s more to this than just Shinichi being bullied. Hayato decides to talk to Shinichi’s teacher Kyoko Aizawa. Hayato can’t get many answers from Kyoko Aizawa except cryptic warnings to “watch out” and “be careful.”Fujiwara start to reveal the mystery.

REVIEW:

Directed by Yôhei Fukuda

Bullying sure isn’t what it used to be. When I was growing up, bullying in the movies was a staple of coming-of-age stories. It was another quaint rite of passage in anyone’s adolescence on par with first kisses, and most of them had everyone become friends in the end.  These days, we’re a little wiser to how cruel kids can be and how deep the damage from grade school can run, so cinematic bullies have taken on a more sadistic tone in response.

Tokyo Gore School centers around handsome moody teenager Hayato, living his morose double life as class president and king of the bullies. The way Hayato sees it, there are only winners and losers in this life, and he intends to win (whatever that means). He floats through life soaking up the adulation of his admirers while monologuing his oh-so-nihilistic worldview to himself, until one day some kid he’s been hassling jumps off a building. This is only the starting gun to a whole new world of mayhem.

Hayato learns he has been targeted by a popular mobile game that essentially works like Pokemon Go but for tormenting classmates. The game posts students’ personal information (along with real-time GPS tracking) on the internet and has them do battle in order to protect their data. Should someone “defeat” you and take your phone, they have the privilege of revealing your biggest secret to the world (for instance, that you shit your pants in grade school, or you have a “world record teenie weenie”). The victor then scores points that can be used to slowly delete their own data off the website.

The game’s Darwinist themes speak to Hayato, so he easily gets caught up in the fun. But he quickly realizes he has his own horrible secret to protect (does he too have a teenie weenie?) He sets out to win the game at any cost, because the worst thing anything can be is a loser.

I mentioned in my review for Crows Zero how I am a little too old to enjoy the whole angst-ridden teenage badass in movies. Regular macho movies bore me, but baby macho is just gross. How unfortunate that this film would be the very next movie in my roster. Tokyo Gore School lays it on thick with that “lone wolf in the high school jungle” nonsense from the start, and pins you with the biggest jerk in your graduating class as your protagonist.

Even if you didn’t attend public school, you’ve met a Hayato at some point in your life. He’s the guy you’ll hear quoting Nietzche’s most dour observations at a party, or the guy who loves Fight Club for all the wrong reasons. You know, that guy–the one who is just too cool and stone cold, the guy who seems so sexy and mysterious in the movies but is pretentious and insufferable in reality. Hayato is that guy cranked to maximum levels.

Being class president makes him untouchable to teachers and his cool guy attitude has earned him significant rank among the bullies. He is the kind of guy that will bend over a bloodied nerd and tell him all the ways he had it coming. He sees other people as obstacles or tools with particular nastiness reserved for females. There are two separate scenes where Hayato uses naïve schoolgirls as live bait for bully attacks, while he hides nearby and congratulates himself on his brilliant strategic skills. He instantly rejects those foolish enough to offer their friendship, seemingly out of some self-imposed need to remain a mysterious loner. At every turn, Hayato chooses to do the polar opposite of the right thing, sometimes veering so far into the wrong thing he pulls off some incredibly shitty stunts on innocent people. All the while, he never once questions himself, always assured that he is doing what he has to do to get ahead. He can’t even bother to feel conflicted over it.

There are a handful of conversations where characters ask each other about their plans for the future. And it is funny to hear street toughs muse about wanting to get married and start businesses with their fathers, but it is here that the movie seems to reveal what it is actually saying. We take intentional pause in these moments, as if to stop and ask “Does any of this really matter?” In the world of a high school student, high school is the world. Wherever you are on the food chain, that is your universe for four long years. But you graduate, you spend a while in the real world, and you look back and wonder what a seventeen year old could ever be miserable about. But everything is life or death in the teenage wasteland, and Tokyo Gore School takes full advantage of the pubescent’s tendency to exaggerate.

Just like a mild flirtation can be taken for a marriage proposal, these kids take a mean-spirited fad game and turn it into a vicious manhunt. But what happens after it all ends? What happens after you win the game, or just stop playing? What does your status in high school mean in college, work, or life in general? There are fleeting moments where the students almost realize what they’re actually saying–that this so-called survival game is ultimately meaningless, and that it is nothing compared to the dread of considering their lives after graduation.

 

Keep all this in mind as we turn our attention back to Hayato and his scrawny selfish ass. How does a guy like this fare in reality? Unfortunately, there’s a great number of successful Hayatos running the world, corporate suits who are in every way the same gold-plated brats they were as kids. What if there was a way to pluck out the root before it spreads? Wouldn’t it be great if there were something out there turning that Darwinist theory on its head, preying on the predators, ridding the world of evil in its infancy? I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say that spending all that time hating your protagonist pays off in spades.

I started Tokyo Gore School with many eye rolls and spit-gargle-growl noises of disgust, but I finished it with cheers and fist pumps. It’s Battle Royale in the big city, with students’ social lives on the line rather than their actual lives…but when you’re seventeen, what’s the difference?

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