Saturday, July 9, 2011

In short: Kazuo Umezu's Horror Theatre: Present (2005)

Original title: Umezu Kazuo: Kyofu gekijo - Purezento

It's Christmas all over Japan, and a merry band of friends decide to top off their Christmas celebrations with a stay in a particularly Christmas-themed hotel. Virginal and pure-hearted Yuko (Mai Takahashi) uses the opportunity to fall into bed with her love interest Ryosuke (Takamasa Suga), even though the hotel gives her horrifying flashbacks to a childhood nightmare. As the word "horror" in the title should make abundantly clear, this "having sex" stuff can't be tolerated, so once the couple's finished, a big fat gaijin Santa Claus (Randall Himes) appears. He's got spiky things with Christmas ornaments and he knows how to use them!

Those of his victims Santa doesn't dispatch at once, he drags into his torture cellar, where he also feeds brains to his reindeer. How will Yuko escape him, now that she'll never be able to be a proper final girl anymore? Will Ryosuke's tendency to vomit a lot help her?

But wait, there's more: turns out Yuko never was all that virginal and pure-hearted at all, and a smoker to boot, and just pretended to be one to drag Ryosuke into her bed! How fiendish! Then it turns out it was all a dream! Then it turns out the dream was a dream too! Then it turns out the dream inside the dream was a dream too! Or was it?

Far be it from me to give anyone reading this the impression that I'm intellectually inconsistent (though I am), but it's better to be intellectually inconsistent than to be intellectually dishonest, so I have to admit that my usual hatred for "it was all a dream" twist endings just didn't make an appearance while I was watching Present. Turns out you just need to make your dream-related twist endings so ridiculously complicated and bizarre that they themselves feel like a dream, and I'm neither going to be annoyed by them nor complain about them. In fact, the proper ridiculousness of Present's ending fits in so cosily with everything that came before it that I even have to admit that this might have been the only correct way to end this particular movie.

What did come before the ending was pretty much the intersection of the styles of the short film's two father's, loveable weirdo and mangaka genius Kazuo Umezu - on one of whose manga shorts this is based - and director of gorily bizarre movies Yudai Yamaguchi. Umezu's obsession with childhood fears and Yamaguchi's love for ridiculous (and sometimes awesome) rubbery gore fit together well, and both have a thing for the slightly hysterical and the bizarre, so this is a case where the sensibilities of a mangaka and a director truly are one - at least in the limits of this particular short film, where Umezu's more political and social interests don't really apply, and where Yamaguchi's love for the whacky cancels out the potentially annoying moral lesson of the story.

Present's short running time helps to keep Yamaguchi's less savoury tendencies (tendencies that only appeared in Yamaguchi's films after Meatball Machine) in check, so there's neither too little actual content to fill out the running time, nor the overwhelming feeling of having an overexcited thirteen year old shouting into one's ear for ninety minutes. This time, Yamaguchi's gets the balance between the crazy and the normal just right.

For my - admittedly peculiar - tastes, Presents pretty much has everything I could hope for in a low budget direct to DVD short: very Japanese gore, bizarre humour, merry eroticizing of Western culture, and a mood of violent dream-like strangeness.


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