Danger After Dark Collection (Suicide Club, 2LDK and Moon Child) DVD Review
Written by Eric Strauss
Box set released by TLA Releasing
Written and directed by Sion Sono
2007, Region 1 (NTSC), 94 minutes, Not rated
Box set released on June 27th, 2006
Ryo Ishibashi as Kuroda and Masatoshi Nagase as Shibu
Written and directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi
2003, Region 1 (NTSC), 70 minutes, Not rated
Box set released on June 27th, 2006
Maho Nonami as Lana and Eiko Koike as Nozomi
Directed by Takahisa Zeze
Written by Gackt and Takahisa Zeze and Kisyu Izuchi
2003, Region 1 (NTSC), 119 minutes, Not rated
Box set released on June 27th, 2006
HYDE as Kei and Gackt as Sho
TLA Releasing is launching its new “Danger After Dark” horror line with a limited edition box set of its three previous genre releases, all out of Japan and two newly remastered in anamorphic widescreen.
Of the three, the cult hit Suicide Club is the best known, the vampire crime saga Moon Child best fits the “horror” motif and the chicks-with-weapons-themed 2LDK is the best film.
Suicide Club is made in the Battle Royale vein, but it’s much less straightforward in its satire. In fact, it’s a pretty strange film: part police procedural, part gorefest, part surreal nightmare. And it makes about as much sense as you might expect from a film that mixes the Japanese flair for the bizarre with a ritualistic suicide and a pop-video girl band.
The film sealed its cult status from the opening scene, when a group of 50 uniformed schoolgirls joins hands, smiles and leaps in front of an oncoming subway train.
From there, the first half of the film tracks the police investigation, led by Detective Kuroda (The Grudge’s Ryo Ishibashi — who also appears in Moon Child), as the homicide squad tries to get to the bottom of the rash of deaths.
But as the clues lead the cops further and further astray, the film unravels into nonsensical events that — no thanks to the language barrier — are pretty hard to follow or comprehend.
Suicide Club has subliminal messages, Internet clues, musical numbers, a cult leader who combines a pair of Davids — Koresh and Bowie — and a bit of a tattoo fetish.
Between the gore and the abundance of Japanese girls in “Sailor Moon” gear, it’s easy to see why this is a cult favorite with a certain crowd. And there’s more than enough blood for the horror fans. In the end, though, this is another foreign film destined to excite overanalytical fans and confound everybody else.
2LDK is half of the brilliantly-conceived (considering the creators were surrounded by drunks) “Duel Project,” involving hotshot Japanese directors Yukihiko Tsutsumi and Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus).
The idea: Two actors, one basic set, a week to film and the mother of all fights. The writer/directors facing off like Old West gunfighters or the samurai of yore — throw down the best you’ve got and may the best filmmaker win.
While Kitamura crafted his usual frenetic samurai tale in Aragami, Tsutsumi came up with a more contemporary angle: A Tokyo “2LDK” apartment — 2 bedrooms, living room, dining room and kitchen.
It is occupied by a pair of overstressed and badly mismatched actresses — high-spending, flirtatious Lana and neat freak country-girl Nozomi — who are getting on each other’s nerves in a big way. When both come up for the same major film role, it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Next thing you know, it’s an all-out girlfight using everything at hand in the house — from decorative samurai swords to Japanese glass cleaner.
The black comedy is a short flick, clocking in at a tidy 70 minutes, but it plays very well, building some character, then some tension — and then tearing it all down in a gleeful, goofy — but not gory — orgy of over-the-top violence.
Tsutsumi drew first in the director’s duel, and although Kitamura crafted a slick, entertaining film, it’s 2LDK that gets the win. Tsutsumi’s film is a delightful one, tailor-made for anyone who enjoys a good catfight, can’t watch enough American Psycho or has ever put up with a thoroughly irritating roommate.
Moon Child appears to be a direct port of TLA’s original disc, with only the cover art changed to add the “Danger After Dark” label (the remastered DVDs have newer TLA credit screens, different style menus and other subtle differences). And yet it is the only film of the trio that takes place “after dark,” or contains a single traditional horror element.
The element is a vampire, Kei (Japanese rock star “HYDE”), who befriends an orphan boy and sees him grow into a gunslinging crime lord.
That means, of course, Moon Child is more Asian bullet ballet than Nosferatu, as Sho (another rock star, “Gackt”) grows up into a thief extraordinaire alongside pal Toshi and brother Shinjo. The monkey in the wrench comes when the trio collide on a mission with another gun-toting young man, bent on avenging the rape of his sister. And as the film skips haphazardly through the years, love and war take center stage before a backdrop of melancholy musings on immortality.
That’s not to say Moon Child is a particularly deep film — there’s more gunplay than philosophy, by far — but it is typically thoughtful in the way so many Asian actioners are. The upside is, the film is filled with sharp setpieces, Mexican standoffs and creative camera angles. The downside is, the leaps through the years feel more like a shortcut than a way of seeing things through Kei’s undying timeframe.
Horror fans expecting plenty of vampire action will be disappointed. Yes, there’s bloody feasting on the throats of dead enemies. But far more gangsters die by the .45 than by the fang, and vampirism becomes more something to ponder than the focus of the film.
And maybe it’s the heavily-made-up rock-star leads, but despite several of the male characters romancing the mute sister, Moon Child has enough latent homosexuality to make a Top Gun fan blush. One of TLA’s other specialty lines features gay and lesbian films, and there are several poignant moments between Kei and Sho that suggest untapped crossover potential.
As with many Asian films, there’s the nagging suspicion something cultural is lost in translation. But if the three “Danger After Dark” films are strange, they’re also pretty darn good.
Video and Audio:
Suicide Club and 2LDK are both remastered in anamorphic widescreen, according to TLA, and Moon Child already featured the video enhancement.
Though Suicide Club is listed as 1.85:1 anamorphic, the ratio is more like 2.35:1. The mastering itself seems fine, clear and without any compression issues, but the image is quite soft and grainy. The picture is certainly acceptable, though clearly the source elements were not great. Although blacks are strong, colors are a bit muted as well.
2LDK’s video is nicer, benefiting from a brighter overall image and suffering only from some rough-around-the-edges source material. In this case, the anamorphic enhancement really brings out the best in the film, however, as colors are bright and images are clear.
Moon Child is also anamorphic, but suffers slightly because it missed out on the remastering. The image is highlighted by solid blacks, but like Suicide Club, it suffers from softness and grain. There were a few very minor compression issues, possibly a result of the older mastering process.
Suicide Club is listed with a “stereo” track, while 2LDK and Moon Child both have “surround” tracks, according to their packaging. However, all are Dolby 2.0 at their base, and there is no true “surround” using the rear speakers or bass.
Suicide Club’s 2.0 sound is acceptable, but regrettably shallow, especially given the film’s many uses of a not-so-rumbling subway train. However, there is no problem with dialogue clarity or volume levels. For 2LDK, a “smaller” film in scale, the 2.0 surround is perfectly fine, with the soundtrack clear, if again a bit shallow as a result of the frontal orientation. It is only really a drawback during the few loudest combat scenes late in the film. Moon Child also has a 2.0 track and, of the three films, holds up best during the loud moments — a plus with the film’s many gunfights. Of course, of the three films, the bullet ballet cries out the most for a 5.1 track.
All three films have optional English subtitles for their Japanese language tracks — again, there’s an upgrade, as 2LDK’s are new — but no English dubs are present. Subtitling is generally good, though the Suicide Club band “Dessert” wreaks havoc on both the subtitling and the movie itself.
The best film gets the best supplements — in fact, the only real ones in the set. 2LDK has two featurettes, and both are valuable indeed. The 20-minute “making of” piece is as funny as the film and offers a good look at the eight-day shoot, including extensive interviews with director Tsutsumi and actresses Nonami and Koike. The other is even more interesting: 25 minutes of (subtitled) footage from various news conferences for 2LDK and the Duel Project itself, including interviews and remarks from Tsutsumi, Kitamura, Nonami and Koike. It’s a shame TLA couldn’t get the rights to Aragami — which belong to Media Blasters’ Tokyo Shock line — since a Duel Project double-feature based around this footage (and that available for Aragami) would have made a showcase box set for the fledgling line.
A handful of “Danger After Dark” trailers on 2LDK are the least of the features, but regrettably, on the other discs, they’re essentially the only ones. Suicide Club and Moon Child are pretty much rehashes of the original bare-bones releases, with just very small photo galleries and assorted TLA trailers.
In some ways, it’s tough to look at a somewhat barren set — three discs with a sum total of two real extras — and feel optimistic about TLA’s future add-ons. But 2LDK’s hour worth of featurettes is an excellent complement to the film, and the next “Danger After Dark” DVD, the Australian serial-killer flick Feed, appears to follow the trend, with a number of special features slated.
This trio of films is a bit of an odd combination to open the “Danger After Dark” line, since only one is even remotely the type of horror the label brings to mind.
Although the features on the various discs are disappointing, given a list price of only $29.99 for the set, it is tough to demand more. After all, some studios’ bare-bones DVDs go for near $30 for a single movie, and in this box, you get three pretty good ones.
I see a DVD line’s debut box set, I expect special editions, and these aren’t even close. But Suicide Club and 2LDK belong in any horror-satire fan’s collection, and TLA’s discs get the job done for the films — and that counts most of all.
For less than $10 a movie, it’s easy to recommend a purchase for Asian cinema fans.
(Weapons of Choice: Mitsubishi 1080 series 42” TV, Sony DVP-CX995V DVD player, Bose Lifestyle 25 Series II speakers and, in certain situations, Panasonic 27” TV, Panasonic A110 DVD player and Bose TriPort headphones.)