Gory, deranged, and brutal, it has no chainsaws but the fan dubbed “Japanese Chainsaw Massacre” brings every bit of horror it could muster.
A young man in a wheelchair is tortured by relatives who have come to stay with his family, but no one believes him until it’s too late. Let’s dig into 2000’s “Living Hell”, directed by Shugo Fujii!
As I See It
It is amazing what talented people can accomplish with sheer ingenuity, help from friends, and about one hundred thousand US dollars. Made on a shoestring budget (compared to other Japanese films which are very expensive normally), this exploration of personality disorder is a roller coaster ride of torture, gross-out horror and faux supernatural creep-outs.
Inspired by the likes of Hitchcock and De Palma, and motivated by the bar set by Steven Spielberg when he filmed Duel (a 14-day shoot with 3 cameras), director Shugo Fujii was able to pull this film off with just one camera in nine days. And he hangs his hat on that, though humbly bowing to the master that is Spielberg in quality.
Fans have labeled the film the Japanese Chainsaw Massacre, and the DVD uses the subtitle. You may get angry and say, “There isn’t a single chainsaw!” And you’d be right, but who cares?
Favors from friends and family (the composer was a high school buddy, Chiyo, the crazy old woman, is his aunt, and the actor who played Ken is his best friend), generosity from seasoned actors (longtime Japanese actor Sei Hiraizumi did the film for free), and a collection of stage play actors create a bloody, cacophonous symphony of absolute lunacy.
Right out of the gate, the first visual, he kills the dog!
The brilliance of the unease that elicits was very intentional, but not in a way you would expect. It was meant for one person in particular: the director’s father, who falls asleep if there is no action in the first five minutes of a film.
The final sequence is a thing of beauty. Somehow he shot with an 8.5mm wide-angle lens and still made it feel like you were stuck in a box.
The only sequences I didn’t care for were the flashback scenes, though I can appreciate the difficulty in achieving them. Filmed with a 4.5mm (one of the only two available in all of Japan at the time) on negative film stock and heavily saturated, it has a clean Begotten vibe, but it’s too stark a contrast to the rest of the film.
There is no dearth of creepiness, blood, bugs, or madness. It’s ripe. That midi tone in the score is going to haunt my dreams for a long time.
Track this one down. It’s a lost gem.
Hirohito Honda (Yusa) was in the brutal Hunger Games precursor Battle Royale.
Of Gratuitous Nature
A director including themselves in their film, especially in an important role, is always subject to ridicule. Just ask QT, who catches flack every time he steps in front of the camera for some reason, even though he’s quite the enjoyable character actor (think Jimmie from Pulp Fiction).
I have to say that Shugo is so good in his role that if I didn’t listen to the Director’s commentary I wouldn’t have guessed he wasn’t a professional actor.
This has the most terrifying menu screen of any DVD, ever! I love it.
Ripe for a Remake
Shugo Fujii is still making films. His latest, Frantic, came out just last year. You always wonder what a talented director could do with more money. Could be a splatterfest if he’s funded and itching to revisit his first feature.
No progeny to report.
Where to Watch
It seems the only way to catch this one is by searching for an early 2000s DVD release.