Kichiku Dai Enkai ("Banquet of the Beasts) is a vicious, brutal, nasty, psyche-scarring flick that sneaks up on you from the woods over to your left, lets you enjoy your little mid-afternoon snack, waits until you curl up for a nap, and then pounces, tearing out your viscera and shoving them down your throat.
It's that kind of movie. If "Kichiku" were a dog, it would be a large, faithful family hound, maybe a Black Lab or a St. Bernard, known for its even-tempered disposition. It would be good with kids. It would be friendly and huge and totally reliable. It would even be a little timid.
And then, all Stevie King's 'Cujo'-style, it would get rabies, go apesh*t, and decide to turn your neck into 100% ground beef by way of its super-masticating choppers.
It is 1969, Japan: a staid society is in turmoil as radicalized students stage protests, shut down the universities, and riot, rebel, grow their hair, and---those steeped in the darker shadows of the Counterculture, anyway---foment bloody rebellion.
Some more so than others, including the shadowy Aizawa's revolutionary gang, because if a movement for Progressive Social Change is about anything at all, it's about Justice, Freedom, Equality, and the right to go Jim Jones on your camp followers, fold, spindle, mangle and mutilate them, and sample their brains and guts. Right?
Right! Pol Pot and Mao Tse-Tung didn't go all soft and weepy over cracking a few souls for the good of the People, did they?
Neither does Miyame, girlfriend of jailed gang leader Aizawa, who has now taken total power over the gang. Aizawa dispatches henchman Fujiwara to check in on his little group, and to bear tidings of the Fearless Leader's imminent release from prison. And, you know, just to make sure the pot hasn't boiled over.
Which is a good thing, as it turns out, because the pot is bubbling furiously. Miyame has a few other plans percolating in her moral pressure cooker besides Truth, Justice, Motherhood & Apple Pie, including seducing as many of Aizawa's gang as she can get her hands on, assuming iron-fisted control over the group, dancing around in a creepy demon-mask, and giggling hysterically between bouts of depraved violence.
Oh yeah, and getting her hands on a stash of guns.
Before you can say "think global, act local", Miyame has seized total control, isolated her little band in the mountainous woodlands, and is engaging in her own little experiment on the finer points of human anatomy combined with scraping the last vestiges of human decency or scruple from her increasingly bloodthirsty pack. And then the Fun really begins.
"Kichiku Dai Enkai" is divided into three parts, three 'Dai Enkai' parties: you could think of the whole movie as Appetizer, Lunch, and Dinner. Each 'party' begins with a Dance (Miyame with her demon-mask): following each dance, there's a sort of wilding, a descent into savagery.
There's no room for dessert, in this case, and you'll probably be full afterwards. That or Dead.
Director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri has created, concocted, distilled and injected a Dark Night of the Soul here, a savage howl of anger and Evil and savagery and cruelty.
Kumakiri is working on the low-end of low budget filmmaking here, and he does so masterfully, marshalling his scanty resources in such a way as to occlude the paucity of funds, or name-actors, or high-end effects. Lose yourself in this flick---in the spare, atonal shrieks and drum rattles of its soundtrack that punctuate the traipse into madness, in the grainy film quality that permeates, suffuses, and melds into a world of seamy, stinking dorm-rooms and seamier bungalows.
And the acting: for a low-budget flick, the acting is superb. It works. The students are zoned-out, goofy, giggling, smirking: kids who have too little supervision, too much time, too much access to gonzo drugs and not enough access to common sense.
Particularly good is Miyame (played by Mikami Sumiko), who sinks her choppers into her role as crazed tigress and purring, calculating dictator. It would be a tough gig in more accomplished hands: Sumiko is not an attractive creature---she's puffy and dumpy at best, with a lumpy, clayish head---but she has a raw, feral, bestial charisma, and charisma comes across in any tongue.
A warning: "Kikichu" takes its own sweet time bringing things to boil; it is almost serene, monastic, meditative. It took me three tries to get into its well-paced, reflective mood, and I'm glad I took the time to settle into the madness.
Gorehounds, in particular, will be well paid for their patience: as a tableau of pure, unfettered human cruelty, I don't think any film has approached "Kichiku" in sheer, bloody brutality. It has just about everything: depravity, torture, decapitation, dismemberment, exploding heads, castration, even cannibalism. It all positively stinks with the realism of yesterday's mass grave.
And as in any breviary of bruality, there is beauty among the madness: Kumakiri is an amazingly competent director, spinning out some truly haunting sequences, among them a trot down a bleak dorm-hall that conjures up a death camp hallway, or a doomed man, tortured eyes staring skyward, glimpsing the serene beauty of a sunset through the trees.
Kumakiri has captured, in this raw, bleak, damned world, precisely what Wes Craven might have accomplished---or might have been trying to accomplish---in his "Last House on the Left" or "The Hills Have Eyes". "Kichiku" is parts a glimpse into the inner workings of a gulag, a death camp, and the shadow-haunted forests of the "Blair Witch Project".
"Kichiku" is a sick, feral thing of beauty, and it is very hungry, and very human. Proceed with caution---but do proceed.