Berserk Japanese horror/comedy Too Young to Die! reviewed
Trying to describe the visceral joy of watching Kankuro Kudo’s berserk romantic comedy from Hell Too Young to Die! (not to be confused with the 1990 Brad Pitt flick Too Young to Die?) is no easy task.
But we’ll try.
The film, which had its Canadian premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival last Friday, tells the tale of awkward Japanese schoolboy Daisuke (Ryunosuke Kamiki) who is on a school trip with his class when a freak accident sends their school bus careening off a cliff, killing all on board save for the girl Daisuke loves, Hiromi (Aoi Morikowa).
But while his friends souls presumably all blast up to Heaven, Daisuke is jettisoned to the underworld, his death mistakenly ruled a suicide. Suddenly the unlucky lad’s head is shackled to a board and he and his fellow damned are thrust into a new kind of classroom, lorded over by a horse-headed teacher and whistle-blowing bull-man, both of them demons who pound chalk boards and sing the rules of Hell to the still-shocked spectral students.
And then movie gets weird.
With the aid of a pack of giddy, heavy metal-loving, horned demons, the love-struck Daisuke learns that by appealing his case to the Devil, he can get reincarnated and, since the lad only wants to see the lady he loves, he “auditions” for the monstrous deity, performing a succession of tasks to prove his worth. Unfortunately, the Lord of Hell (who is 30 feet tall and lives in a mountain) keeps sending him back as all manner lowly beast, from a crab to a mantis to a sea lion. Each time he returns, Daisuke tries to find Hiromi and each time he gets a little bit closer before he’s eventually killed and then sent back to Hell. Meanwhile, the pack of supportive demons below want him to join their metal band and engage in epic battles with other demons and dead people, with the ultimate goal to both be the best band in Hell and to woo the Devil to turn Daisuke into a human again.
My brain is melting just writing this synopsis and even then, I’ve only just scratched the surface of the story. Truly, this Jigoku sensory sucker-punch has to be seen to be believed. Kudo’s vision of a Buddhist heavy metal Hell is an epic, spastic, mutated horror-comedy-fantasy-musical loaded with head-spinning imagery and uproariously weird, surreal twists and turns. Seeing it with a packed house at Fantasia made it all the more memorable, as pictures like this were designed to be consumed by crowds of fans hungry for freaky flicks.
But the true beauty of Too Young to Die! is that beneath its gleefully mad sheen, lurks a palpable love story, a tale of a boy who adores a girl and will endure the impossible to simply see her again, to let her know that she meant something to him in life and in death. Kudo never loses sight of this, using his baroque and often convulsively hilarious sense of the absurd to serve that central story.
Kamiki is a revelation, sculpting a fully realized character that we care about and he’s matched by Tomoya Nagase’s shrieking father figure metal demon, a whirling, howling force of nature who steals every scene he’s in and whose own sidebar story is both tragic and touching.
Too Young to Die! is simply a blast. We’re unsure as to when North America will see a release but keep your eyes peeled for it when it plays an equally weird/awesome film fest near you.