Sunday, September 28, 2014

Satsujin Hensachi 70

An act of desperation forces a young man to relive his childhood insecurities and cope with societal pressure in a manner that pushes him to his breaking point---which, coincidentally, is a point of no return. Satsujin Hensachi 70 plays out as a cautionary tale and an admonition of one nation's fixation in equating or measuring a person's worth according to his social standing and/or education.

In concept, it's a clear indictment of the perceived necessity indoctrinated on the youth to get into certain institutions of higher learning and the corresponding prestige attached by Japanese society to it. The featured presentation even goes on to argue that while the current system in place is facially built on meritocracy, the same has a tendency to substantially increase inequality by limiting opportunities and further marginalizing those who from the onset are already in a disadvantaged position in society.

This message is delivered making use of an extreme case, providing some suspense and psychological drama similar to the style of movies like Fight Club and Black Swan with a mentally fragile character at its center.

Satsujin Hensachi 70 is the story Miyahara Keisuke (Miura Haruma), a university hopeful who has been trying for the last two years to gain admission to Tokyo University. He's about to take the entrance examination for the third and last time, knowing that he could no longer impose upon his father (Takahashi Katsumi) to financially support him for another year of intensive preparation. Furthermore, he doesn't want to disappoint his girlfriend (Takimoto Miori) who's been nothing but patient with him, despite his indefinite status as a NEET and coming from a poor, broken family. So the pressure is on for him to succeed.

Unfortunately for Keisuke, he oversleeps on the day of the exam and even though he makes haste, he knows that there is no way that he would make it on time. In a desperate effort to salvage his final shot at getting into the said university, he sends a bomb threat via email to delay the administration of the exam.

His plan works and he is able to not only sit through the exam but also pass it. Keisuke's overcome with joy, at least until he is approached by fellow examinee, Tanaka Hiroshi (Shirota Yu) who's figured out what he did and is now demanding hush money.

Driven by anxiety, Keisuke turns over all his savings to Hiroshi, and soon finds himself peddling dubious merchandise in an underground rave club just to come up with the extortion money. Cornered and unable to grant the increasing demands of Hiroshi, Keisuke decides to confront him with the aid of a woman (Kuriyama Chiaki) that he met at the club.

The initial buzz (not to mention the poster) on Satsujin Hensachi 70 provides some misdirection on what it is really about. Its first section is put together like an ordinary thriller, with Keisuke being incessantly stalked and taunted by a bitter and sadistic, Hiroshi. It's a device that is however invalidated by the show's title sequence which quickly alerts viewers of Keisuke's growing mental instability. 

The special in itself is watchable, with middling performances from Miura Haruma and Shirota Yu but there's a noticeable lack of subtlety required to shock and bamboozle audiences into believing its surprise twist. The depiction of conflict is a recurring theme not only between Keisuke and Hiroshi but also between the have and have-nots in society. It tries to replicate that sense of creeping paranoia that often drives cult movies of the same genre and in part manages to achieve it by utilizing visual cues. 

Some scenes are set up like eerie, psychedelic visions, augmenting the emotional turmoil and abject helplessness of the main character. What it lacks however is that sinister element to complement the overall mystery that's built around Keisuke's personal and internal struggle. From a technical aspect, there appears to be a concerted effort to make it look edgy and well-thought out. A rather telling shot that's consistently utilized is an image of Keisuke crossing a bridge that's literally taken sideways to show that his world has tipped over. Those who pay attention will realize that this is just one of many creative shots incorporated to clue people in on what's going on. As the color blue makes a prominent appearance and recurring motifs are effectively strewn all over the show, there should be no doubt in the mind of the viewer that no matter what direction Keisuke takes---he's crossed a bridge and is headed on a downward spiral. 


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