Stacy – Naoyuki Tomomatsu

21 Dec

Nationality: Japan

Year: 2001

Pros:Tongue in cheek zombie movie that really manages to pull off some crazy social satire.  A heavy dose of J-pop culture and genuinely inventive film making going on in here.  Very silly film and very haunting in some unexpected ways, which is a weird mix.Cons: Aagaaggg – what IS it about the Japanese and schoolgirls?? Plus, of course, enough blood and guts to make Sam Raimi wince.
DVD Details: Only available from the US in a Region 1 disk.

You know something?  There are times when I just HATE genre horror movies.  I am always reluctant to express hate in my reviews because these things obviously have a long and powerful tradition – just, not for me!  Vampires, werewolves, ug – and the living dead are the worst of all of them – it’s sooooooo boring!  I saw my Romero and my Evil Dead long ago and that was enough for me.  You can keep your zombies!  Or at least so I thought until along came this weird and silly Japanese take on them.  Yup – it is a zombie flick – with lots of everything you expect and dread from a zombie flick.  The living dead being cut up with chain saws.  Blood and guts all over the room – even on the camera lens at one point. The world shaken to it’s foundation by these bloody upheavals.  And lots of zombies making their way very slowly along roads.  But it is also much more than that – and I am left shaking my head, wondering what to say about it.  How to convince you of the strangeness of this film.  How to convey that there are more dimensions to it than cutting up living dead school girls with chainsaws. Please remember, this is a Japanese zombie movie about cutting up living dead school girls with chainsaws . . . and in Japan there is no legal statute to prevent the dodgiest forms of art sometimes being interesting as there seems to be in the west.  The important point is that this film transcends that slasher movie foundation to develop into a curious and puzzling work of art.  To put it bluntly, this film managed to be, at one and the same time, a totally absurd and tongue in cheek flick that can never, under any circumstances, be taken seriously and also something with many levels going on and venturing into some strange deep and dark places that maybe can be taken seriously.  That is a very Japanese thing to manage and it’s a dichotomy that really troubles western viewers, who tend to want it to be either one or the other and cant handle this mix.  It ranges from the grotesque and the gruesome to the sad, funny, haunting and downright touching and beautiful.  Hard to analyse as well – hard even to work out if I entirely like it or not!  But it is a highly interesting blend, if a somewhat perverted one at times!  But then, any movie in the slasher arena is perverted to some degree or other and, in general, we seem pretty accepting of that particular perversion!  And of course, you have to remember that, for the Japanese, schoolgirls are such a cultural icon that they are one of the more prevalent images in Japanese pop creativity – and it is hardly surprising to find them here in this pop-culture romp!  Therefore, this is just the Japanese schoolgirl version of a slasher movie rather than the American student version.  Shocking, disgusting, twisted and more or less run-of-the-mill in that regard.  And, when it comes to perversions, even the Japanese schoolgirls can’t compete, thank goodness, with the sheer unadulterated horror of what the Americans are capable of, even on prime-time TV!

The time is now – but definitely not the present.  Girls (only girls) between the ages of 15 and 17 are succumbing to a mysterious condition that nobody really understands.  It first manifests itself as a period of “Near Death Happiness”, leading to the victims wandering around in a deliriously happy, seemingly love-struck state.  In fact they are almost becoming their own clichés in Japanese media and anime!  The cute girls prancing gaily through their animated worlds, in love with everyone and everything.  And it is this state of media-style perfection that leads directly to zombiehood.  The artificial happiness doesn’t last and they eventually die. Only to transform into your familiar common or garden flesh-hungry zombies known as Stacys – but prettier than Romero’s kind.  Covered with some shimmery material called “Butterfly Sparkle Powder” (I just love the way the Japanese can deliver lines like that with such perfect solemn seriousness!), their living dead faces still following that artificial media-glitz style – looking more like anorexic supermodels than ravening zombies.  Is the zombie state a satirical jab at the unreal and glitzy images of media idolisation?  Gawd almighty!  Is this schoolgirl slasher actually containing feminist symbolism????  If so, then that is Unexpected Aspect No. 1.  The first of many things that open up rather different philosophical avenues than a normal zombie flick is likely to.

And, surprise surprise, the stacys can only be destroyed by cutting them up into precisely 165 pieces (?), which is known as being “repeat killed”.  Not surprisingly, all this has a certain effect on culture and society as families watch their daughters making the inevitable transformation and as the government struggles to find ways to deal with the situation without loosing their grip entirely on familiar normalcy or actually doing anything radical.  It is here that the film is perhaps at its best – the little touches it uses to portray society dealing with this . . . The ads on tv.  The official systems in place.  People’s attitudes, which are still disturbingly normal.  Trying to maintain a farcical semblance of law and order, it is carefully legislated that the only people allowed to destroy these zombies aside from the special squads set up for that purpose (known as the Romero Troops, ha ha!*) are family or boyfriends.  However, in common with most government measures to deal with serious situations, the ‘stacy laws’ don’t work and there is a proliferation of illegal repeat killers who will do the job for you if you are desperate.  There is even talk of making those special squads a kind of compulsory national service. In the film, one man does join such a squad on a desperate search for his beloved penfriend, now a stacy – a search that takes him to mad scientists laboratories and weird research facilities, and to the absolute depths of emotion hunting stacys in the streets.  One scene – of half a dozen heavily armoured Romero soldiers howling their eyes out in a quiet suburban street over the sweet, philosophical, resignedly aware and very happy looking young girl that they will one day have to cut up into 165 pieces – has to rank as one of the oddest ever filmed.

* – This is very much an ‘in’ film, happy to fill itself with affectionate references to the genre.  I am not a real expert on zombie films, but you cant really miss the Romaro references and (best of all) the huge nod to Bruce Campbell and his chainsaw from Evil Dead.  Definitely moments worth a chuckle.

Meanwhile, a young puppeteer named Shibu-san has made a new friend.  The ethereal and haunting Eiko, unfortunately entering the last stages of transformation into a stacy – the near death happiness.  Its hard and strange to make friends with one in an ethereal state and on the way towards death – but Shibukawa finds himself drawn ever-closer to this happy doomed figure, though it is inevitable that this will be a tragic and very strange and pained relationship.  Soon she has a favour to ask.  She, understandably, would prefer to be cut up into small pieces by someone she knows and feels close to rather than by the stacy equivalent of dustbin men, which of course is against the law.  Its a hard request to deal with, but how can you not agree to a thing like that?  But the legal aspects are heading for redundant anyway as his attraction to this girl is developing into something much more than friendship*.  Falling in love with the girl he will soon have to kill and dismember is no easy thing.  His final declaration of his love is both heroic and touching in its classic Japanese sweetness . . .

Mr Rix, Mr Rix, Mr Rix – what are you TALKING about?  Are you finally going nuts?  What is this nonsense?  Butterfly Sparkle Powder?  And you’re taking it seriously? I know I know – do you think this is easy for me??  All I can say is that this is Japan – Just keep that fact before you at all times.  Japan – a place where ‘nonsense’ and ‘taking it seriously’ are not always quite so clear-cut.  Yes – I KNOW that by all western laws something like this shouldn’t be so intriguing.  Maybe I am a strange and sentimental fool for probing beyond the surface of this to such a degree.  Or maybe not.  Interesting and intellectual is where you find it.

* – Please remember that Japan is a culture without such a huge watershed at the mystical age of 18 so the concept of a (pretty much platonic) romance between a young artist and a 16-17 year old is not going to be that strange or unnerving to them.  Trust me – that is the LEAST disturbing part of this crazy film!

And what are we left with at the end?  If nothing else, it is very nicely made.  It is filled with little details that grab you and make you blink and a sometime wonderful aesthetic sense (the puppets and puppet show that Shibu-san puts on for instance, are mesmerising).  It is filled with a sense of being lovingly put together and with strange touches of unexpected art.  And even the somewhat hokey and extreme special effects work very nicely.  There is a lot of puzzlement though – in my case anyway.  Puzzlement as to the implications of what has just been watched!  You are torn in many directions at once on many levels at once.  Wanting to dismiss it as a silly zombie flick, but not quite able.  Wanting to understand it, but not quite able.  Somewhat freaked out by the sense of what I can only describe as ‘beautiful perversion’ and unsure just what the hell IS perverted about it precisely.  Above all is that decidedly strange feeling left behind about culture’s idolization and perversion of young innocence (in terms of that hollow media glitz) and the feeling that, all along, the zombie genre may have portrayed a disease of the mind that is an inevitable reaction to civilization.

I think that love is the key though.  That’s what this is – a love story!  It really is.  And that is Unexpected Aspect No. 2.  Every thread of the story revolves around love – warm, strange, haunting love.  Love Japanese style, which seems very different from ours in some ways.  Love for stacys, love for people, love for young innocence, love for that very glitzy glamour that the film also seems to aim at, love for humanity in general, love leading to death and destruction and tragedy but still filled with warmth, even at its most twisted.  What IS this?  Exactly what levels is this thing taking place in?  What is it trying to say?  I don’t know – and possibly this confusion is a normal reaction of a British writer trying to get his head round some of the more far-out Japanese creations, which really don’t sit well with our own ways of thinking.  Of course, you cant take a film about zombies covered in Butterfly Sparkle Powder seriously, can you!  But I’ve said it before and I will say it again – this seemingly very silly film manages to kick hard right into some very deep, dark and uneasy places – places that most films wouldn’t dare to go.  I guess that is a tribute to the Japanese way of making things – where ‘even’ a zombie schoolgirl slasher flick gets that special touch of something that transcends everything that you expect.  It leaves me intrigued, and this site of mine is supposed to be about the ‘strange’, not merely the creatively weird – and this film is definitely strange.

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