I suppose you could say I’m a fan of Daisuke Yamanouchi, who I crown Clown Prince of Disgusting Japanese V-Cinema of the Late 90s and Early 2000s. His movies are fucking repulsive yet so childish in their execution that they come across as almost lighthearted. Having spent and inordinate amount of time subtitling both Muzan-E (1999) and Blood Sisters (2000) with my partner, I feel a little too close to some of his work. I’ve also reviewed the disgusting Girl Hell 1999 (1999) and super silly Kyoko vs. Yuki (2000). Yet with all this exposure to his work, I’ve somehow avoided his two most widely seen efforts — the Red Room films. I corrected that today with a stomach-churning double-bill.
RED ROOM & RED ROOM 2
(Akai misshitsu (heya): Kindan no ôsama geemu)
(Shin akai misshitsu (heya): Kowareta ningyô-tachi)
Japan, 1999/2000, Daisuke Yamanouchi
The first Red Room starts with a lengthy, loud and slurpy lesbian kiss that is shot so close up it’s difficult to tell what’s going on at first. Kissing, no matter how wet and sloppy, seems a rather innocent torture method, but don’t worry, the contestants soon up the stakes significantly with light bulb and screwdriver penetration, mouths being used as toilets, dizzying chair spinning, and a vicious pummeling.
The contestants are all classic Yamanouchi archetypes. There’s a cool and calculated schoolgirl with a rather unexpected secret, a sexy office lady who’ll go to any humiliating lengths of degradation to get her hands on the money, a husband-whipping housewife, and, of course, her nervous down-on-his-luck salaryman husband who is soon revealed to be the sweatiest pervert of them all. While they never rise above their stereotypes, they’re all rather enjoyable.
Those not familiar with Yamanouchi’s work would likely expect Red Room to be traumatically depraved leaving them a whimpering scarred mess. Red Room is certainly gross, but like all Yamanouchi’s films there is a sick, slapstick humour running throughout it. Bodily liquids spray with loud accompanying sound effects. Performances become more over the top and sillier as the running time ticks by. It’s a perverted film, but it doesn’t take things too seriously.
Putting on Red Room 2, I thought I’d accidentally inserted the first Red Room DVD again. Both films even open with the same overblown sexy slurping sounds and tacky electronic beats. (Yamanouchi really loves overblown sound effects.) But this time we’re not hearing the sounds of a drawn out lesbian kiss. Red Room 2 well and truly ups the ante from the get go. The vision that eventually compliments the slurps is a female contestant sadly licking a light bulb (what is it about light bulbs, Daisuke?) and copping a load of semen in the face.
Again, we have four contestants. There is an aggressive macho guy who takes serious pleasure in delivering pain, a religious nut who worships a cult leader (clearly modeled on Shoko Asahara of the infamous Aum Shinrikyo), a young quiet guy with a permanent dour expression, and, lastly, a mysterious late addition to the contestants — a blank-faced female player who is on a Forbidden King winning streak thanks to a total absence of dignity.
The scenes of caged torture in Red Room 2 are absolutely turgid and captured in a cheap and lingering style uncomfortably reminiscent to modern pornography. But most are wedged well and truly in the realm of the absurd. A toothbrush is shoved up a contestant’s nose until a relentless blood geyser forms. An umbilical cord is used as a strangulation device. And, in a scene that made me seriously queasy, a bowl of freshly puked vomit is guzzled down.
Though Red Room 2 is longer than the first, it’s a breezier viewing, perhaps thanks to the addition of some kind-of-almost interesting characterisation of the contestants and a truly insane twist. The twist in this is so fantastical that I had actually accidentally predicated it by giggling to myself, “Imagine if [insert the most ludicrous thing I could think of] happened?” And then it did. I won’t give it away though, so instead here’s a still of another ludicrous moment.
The flat out absurdity and unabashed goofiness of the Red Room films mean that they sit outside the world of truly soul-destroying Japanese films like the Guinea Pig series. Yamanouchi just can’t play things straight. In the past this has worked against him. Muzan-E, for example, is ruined by a lame comical twist. Here, it works. The humour softens the blow, but it also makes the films far more watchable. While I don’t consider these two films as the best examples of his work, they are definitely required viewing for fans of sick cinema.
Both Red Room films are available on DVD from the great Unearthed Films. The video and sound is as good as it’ll ever be (these are V-Cinema efforts after all), and the discs feature an enjoyable array of trailers for other filthy Unearthed releases.