Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sing Us a Song, You're the Karaoke Man

A personal tale:
I love the art of karaoke. Few activities are possibly better done drunk than grabbing a microphone in front of your friends and emoting your musical guts out as a computer generated rainbow and blank-faced extras project on a screen behind you. Having lived in South Korea for a year, I can easily say it’s one of the things I miss the most. 
Hence, upon discovering a film called “Karaoke Terror,” my expectations shot up higher than John Goodman’s cholesterol level. When I read the following synopsis, I almost had a heart attack:
“In this dark, cult comedy set to retro karaoke hits, a war for revenge rages between two sects of karaoke devotees when a middle-age divorcée from the Midoris crew is killed by a teenage slacker from the Gakis gang. A generation gap between them, the two groups of malcontents, who share a passion for singing oldies tunes, turn their societal angst against each other in a no-holds-barred battle that leaves only death and destruction in its wake.”
Greatness should surely follow, no?
Quick Plot: The Gaki gang of early twentysomething young men get together twice a month to perform elaborate karaoke numbers, bowler hats in place and equipment installed with careful precision. It’s innocent fun, except that one member has the negative nancys to stalk a female middle aged karaoke enthusiast, slicing her neck when she rebuffs his rather cruel advances. 

Lesson One of hunting karaoke fans: they have friends.
The murder victim turns out to be one Midori of six, a tight band of middle-aged divorcees who bond over their name, unhappy place in life, and the joy they get from singing classic songs under neon lighting. Over a funeral dinner, the ladies decide to seek out Midori’s killer and get her vengeance, an act that turns out to be surprisingly simple...until the Gaki troop responds with some bloody payback of their own.

Thus a karaoke gang war commences, which I regret to inform you, is nowhere near as fun as it sounds. 
It’s not that Karoake Terror isn’t funny or smart. The film, based on a novel by famed writer Ryu Murakami, is essentially a satire that focuses on the plight of middle-aged women. In concept, that’s fascinating. But for one hour and fifty two minutes? Pretty darn dull. Comparing it to something like Suicide Club--which similarly meanders into philosophical diatribes while contrasting it with absurd violence--shows that such an approach CAN work, but you has to be interesting.
See, your film is called Karaoke Terror. That implies that a certain amount of karaoke and terror will ensue. Not enough of either happens, and while what’s in between has plenty of merit in commenting on Japanese society and the relationship between people who seemingly have nothing else in common, it also takes an hour and fifty two minutes.
High Points
A truly out of nowhere ending leaves you some food for thought, plus plenty of ‘did that really just happen?’ to smile at
Low Points
Some of director Tetsuo Shinohara‘s choices, including inserting random narration and the occasional seizure-ready camera tricks, feel more annoying and/or unnecessary than important in telling the story
Lessons Learned
When you pay attention to what others say, you actually understand them
Rocket launchers are surprisingly lightweight

Nothing says empowerment better than masturbating over your clothing
Karaoke Terror is refreshing in its one-of-a-kindness, but it’s also far too long and oddly paced to be a satisfying two-hour watch. Perhaps if I’d known a little more about its philosophical quirks, I may have at least been more willing to enjoy the storyline and ideas. Instead, it just sort of dragged for me, never capturing the fun its title seems to promise. Fans of bizarre Asian cinema or Japanese culture may enjoy it, and those looking for something different won’t be disappointed....just possibly bored.

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