5 January 2004 | FilmFlaneur
Little known 1980's exploitation flic with violent ending.
During the Second World War, a young man from a secluded village is denied the chance to serve in the Japanese army through his tuberculosis. Highly intelligent, although isolated, he lives with his kindly grandmother. Taking advantage of the times he enjoys the company of several married women, but once news of his disease spreads he becomes increasingly socially ostracised and plots revenge...
Masato Furuova, the star of this film and who plays the alienated Tsugio, committed suicide earlier last year. This seems cruelly apt, as Village Of Doom (aka: Ushimitsu no mura) is a film full of images of death, whether of a body hanging under a tree, spilled poison, gunshot wounds, stabbings or a shotgun barrel entering mouths, although the principal violent events occur at the end. Starting as a film in which Tsugio helps to send a friend off to war and then, after being denied active participation in the real struggle overseas ends up bedding several war wives almost by accident, it ends with him shouting "Banzai!" again - this time to himself, before marching off on a bloodthirsty campaign of his own. Between these two pivotal events is the story of a tubercular youth faced with his physical disadvantages, as well as the frustrations of living in a small, presumably in-bred village. Here, it is said, blood kin sleeps with blood kin and unwanted outsiders are "buried in the hills." During the war there are "always lonely women" the results of their liaisons, it is suggested, being dropped in the river. In many ways this is a return to the isolated and feudal Japan of the past: inward looking, where feuds were brought to bloody and formal climax.
Director Tanaka spent a good deal of his early career in the Japanese porn industry before branching out onto more ambitious and complex subject matter. Village Of Doom betrays some of these origins, as Tsugio's early encounters are filmed in characteristic fashion (there is notable finger-fellatio scene which is dwelt upon) and his serial bedding of those lonely wives, their husbands serving conveniently overseas, would be standard fare for a sex comedy. However Tanaka and his screenwriters have a different tale to relate, one whose success depends to great extent on how sympathetic their lead character is, rather than any libidal considerations. And it's a brutal story, based on a novel, but which one feels might just as easily been inspired by real wartime events. Tsugio's actions are staged in such specific and grisly fashion that they feel like a reconstruction of a case; whether or not this is true, there is no doubt that they provide a powerful conclusion.
Of Tsugio it is said, "geniuses like you come once in 100 years" although no real evidence of his intellectual quality is offered outside of his obvious sensitivity. Placed in the care of his grandmother (his parents presumably dead) he dwells morosely on his brief sexual ascendance in the village and then his humiliation, real or imagined, at the hands of various inhabitants such as village lout Tadaaki. Compared to absent warriors like Mamoru given such a rousing send off at the start, or his school friend Tetsuo, continually borrowing money to visit whores in the outside world, he always feels inferior. But Tsugio is indeed the presiding genius over much of the events that rock his small world. His decision at the end to "go to war ... and become a devil," is something of a cathartic act, one by which he establishes his own value just as, in one perverse sense, it defines his village.
Featuring several prominent female roles, the drama is performed adequately, although it must be said no one is outstanding. It's a film that has every suggestion of being made quickly, although arguably the rough-edged quality works in its favour. Particularly effective are the Tsugio's scenes with the love of his life Ysuyo (Misako Tanaka), as well as the final few moments when, blood-spattered and satisfied, he confronts the inevitable. The end of the film is what will gain it any notoriety, although it is considerably less sadistic and flamboyant in the staging that would be instanced today. As a chunk of rare 1980s' Japanese exploitation cinema, and by a name otherwise unknown to many viewers, its worth seeking out.