Gusha no bindume [Hellevator: The Bottled Fools] – Hiroki Yamaguchi

21 Dec


Nationality: Japan

Pain begets pain – brutality generates brutality.  As a society, you punish the brutality that you see but law and justice always strikes only at the last link in the chain of agony and horror.  The sickness of society and civilization are permanent no matter what the environment.  And no matter where you think the end of the line lies, there is always one last station beyond it . . .

These are the feelings that this film leaves you with – or leaves me with anyway . . . and they are not nice feelings.  I suppose you could call this a distopian film in that it portrays a horrific and sickly culture and civilization.  But really, in spite of all the stylised SF trappings, the emphasis is not on that so much as on the more intimate world of human beings in all their mixed up and borderline insane glory.

Picture to yourselves an underground civilisation.  In some ways it is similar to our own – ordinary people struggling to get on with their lives and their humanity in a strange and sterile – indeed almost alien environment (no different then to our own lives in the cities and cultures of the world).  But this is a vertical city, stretching far underground, level after level, hundred levels after hundred levels – and each level dedicated to one specific thing.  For instance, there are the Communities for Researchers and Chemical Experiments, the Communities for Cooks and Convenience Stores, the Communities for Company Housing and Single Dormitories etc.  And somewhere at the top is level 1.  But we don’t talk about that.  And as the kid innocently asks her grandmother, “What’s above level one?  Is there a level zero?”  “There’s nothing above level 1 – it’s dark and cold and scary.  Don’t ask about that, or the surveillance man will scold you.”

And of course, the only way to travel though this vertical city is by elevator – a massive vertical metro system, piloted by uniformed ladies who look like automata.  As the film starts, we are following the film’s main character, a sulky looking girl who just wants to get to or from school (providing the weird juxtaposition of a classic iconic Japanese school uniform in this bizarre underground world – I guess messing with that particular uniform would have been some kind of sacrilege!).  On the elevator ride portrayed here though, an unscheduled stop has to be made at the Communities for Convicts and Prisoners, where the normal crowd of passengers are joined by some more unwelcome company – two prisoners (one of whom speaks his words backwards) being transported to the ‘Special Disposition Bureau’ by their thoroughly nasty guards.  That is not a problem until a discarded cigarette (illegal in this civilisation) causes an explosion, disabling the vehicle and leaving them all trapped in a nice little microcosm of human existence . . .

I can see why some people don’t like this film.  Like many of the wilder Japanese SF works, it is such an intensely over the top horrorshow on the one hand and features a complex and convoluted storytelling style on the other, overall leaving a rather nasty taste in the mouth in the process.  However, the hype about the film – blathering on about rape, telepathic powers and gore – is somewhat of a disservice since rape is just a small part of the tapestry, the telepathic powers are hugely enigmatic and may not exist at all and, while it is certainly a violent movie, it is definitely not about violence as a spectacle in itself.  For me, it was an extremely successful work indeed, owing most of its effect to its visual uniqueness and its flare for atmosphere and conjuring up the world in which it takes place.  Indeed, it is probably the case that the pictures here will be of more use than anything I can say in terms of giving you an idea of what the film is like.  It’s satirical and a little absurdist on one level – a painfully immediate horror story on another.  Various words come to mind – the stylisation and over-the-top drama of cyberpunk is there of course – with 964 Pinocchio not so far away at all – and there is also something decidedly retro-futurist about it.  In that sense, it reminds me a little of Gilliam’s Brazil – though obviously much more lurid and less ‘respectable’.  Even the little details – the fantastically realised machinery that drives the elevator, the uniform of the pilot, the sinister nazi-like military / police / whatever they are all come together to make the film a visual treat (like Brazil) – and also a very uncomfortable and even depressing one (again, like Brazil).

Trapped in this small room, our cast of characters slowly but surely begins to collapse.  Having two almost ludicrously insane prisoners in the mix who quickly manage to get loose from their bonds certainly doesn’t help there, but the simple fact is that, once the momentum of breakdown begins, those two soon become almost irrelevant.  The fragility, selfishness and hidden hysteria of the basic human animal is on spectacular display here.  The film does a great job of blurring the boundaries between fantasy and reality as we are left unsure how much of what is presented is real and how much is taking place inside the somewhat unhinged mind of the film’s main character.  Our schoolgirl is a highly troubled person it soon becomes apparent – seriously messed up by an abusive father, whom she ended up stabbing to death.  All this is slowly revealed through flashbacks as the pressures of this continuing nightmare begins to unhinge her troubled mind more and more.  And, as the film gets stranger and stranger, how much is real and how much is just hallucinatory?  Is the respectable looking scientist figure really a terrorist carrying a foetus infected with a lethal virus?  Is the silent teen sitting in the corner really an agent of the Surveillance bureau?  Is the pram nursed so carefully by the mother on a shopping trip really an empty sham?  Can she really read minds or is she just making up stories for herself?

In the end, this is just a little vortex that takes place – a little spiral storm of human emotion and derangement that appears for a brief flash, discharges and then passes – leaving who knows what damage for the puzzled investigators to sort out.  The representatives of justice want simple answers – but there are no simple answers.  That’s the problem with the justice system everywhere.  Pain begets pain.  Brutality engenders brutality.  Human weather phenomena swirl into being in a dizzying array of action and reaction.  The only things that can possibly be called permanent are the heartbreak and the shattered, damaged glass that is the human soul.


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