Kichiku: Banquet of the Beasts ( 1997)
By: CJ on November 1, 2004  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Artsmagic (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. Japanese DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 104 minutes
The Movie
Director: Kazuyoshi Kumakiri
Starring: Sumiko Mikami, Shunsuke Sawada, Shigeru Bokuda, Toshiyuki Sugihara, Kentaro Ogiso and Tomohiro Zaizen
Screenplay: Kazuyoshi Kumakiri
Country: Japan
AKA: Kichiku: Banquet of the Beasts
It's not often that a student film develops a reputation in quite the same way that Kichiku Dai Enkai (Banquet of the Beasts) has. Kazuyoshi Kumakiri's Kichiku has garnered a reputation for itself of being astoundingly violent and wallowing in brutality and graphic gore. In some ways, it certainly deserves this reputation – but if that is the only reason you come into this film, then you've a fair wait to get to this grue and gore. There is far more to this film than just simple shocks and visceral horror.

The story focuses on a student political group, whose enigmatic leader has been imprisoned for a crime that is never specified. Since being imprisoned, his gang have been led by his girlfriend, the somewhat unbalanced Masami. Masami rules the group with an iron fist and occasionally takes to bedding her male subjects, all the while demeaning their masculinity. The first hour of the film is taken up with establishing the characters and how things start to intensify within the group following the suicide of their incarcerated leader. With the death of their leader, Masami assumes absolute and total control of the group – a group whose political machinations and ambitions are never made quite clear, though it's indicated that they are of left wing persuasion, but this is never properly established. What is clear, however, are the power struggles within the group, in a bizarre exposing of politics in a microcosm of madness.

Things tend to drag at the start though, and the film is pretty uneventful for the first hour or so, but then things suddenly take an ugly turn and, like a slap in the face, wakes up the flagging viewer – the violence becomes so jarring and appalling, that the previous tedium is forgotten in an instant. In fact, it's a very neat and clever trick by the director to contrast the two halves of the film so starkly. The first half lulls the viewer into a false sense of security and then, unexpectedly, the screen explodes in a fountain of crimson saturated violence. Heads are blown off, men emasculated and …well, watch it for yourself. Gorehounds will not be disappointed. Though I must stress that there is much more to this film than just gore, the protagonists are an extremely interesting ragtag bunch of characters - and the actors bring to the film some outstanding performances. It's an intriguing study of a group of youths descending into madness and murder with some fascinating performances and observations. Well worth a watch – and persevere to the end, it's definitely worth it.
The film is presented full-frame, which is presumably how it was shot, and has a murky, grimy look to it, akin to a 70's flick. The closest comparison I can draw is that it has a similar look and feel to it as Craven's Last House on the Left, especially during the grand finale when the group tramp into the woods to commit their appalling atrocities. It may even be a nod to Craven's chiller – it certainly looks as if inspiration could have been drawn from his film. But this look is obviously intentional - so please don't get the impression that Artsmagic have done a poor job with the transfer, because they haven't. It's actually a very good presentation of the film and Artsmagic have done an excellent job with the film, as this is certainly a low-budget film and looks about as good as it ever will on this DVD.
Surprisingly, considering the budgetary origins of the film, it is graced with a full-sounding Japanese 5.1 audio track, with good, well-defined subtitles. It sounds very good actually, but don't expect audio fireworks, as it's not that kind of film and really doesn't need them. But it does enhance the atmosphere of tension and the feeling of dread. There's nothing here to complain about.
Extra Features
Artsmagic have absolutely packed this DVD with extra features – in fact, there's a whole separate disc of extras! There is an introduction by Tom Mes, an expert on Asian cinema and who has also contributed several audio commentaries for other Artsmagic releases. This is followed a 'making of' documentary which charts the progression of the filmmaking process. Then we are treated to A whole host of on-camera interviews with key members of the cast and crew. Next up is the original trailer for the film. Finally, to wrap things up nicely, are some biographies and filmographies. Overall it's an extremely impressive array of extras, and Artsmagic are to be applauded for having gathered together such a feast (excuse the pun!) of supplementary features.
The Verdict
An extremely grim and, at times, depressing film – but one that packs a real visceral punch. It's certainly not one for the squeamish and I can also imagine people giving up before the blood-soaked finale, as the film really does seem to be going nowhere fast during its first hour or so. But it's a film that needs to be taken as a whole – the film is slow at the beginning for a reason, it's to contrast it against the stark nihilism and violence at the culmination of the film. Trust me, the last 40 minutes are pure gut-wrenching horror – the patient viewer is richly rewarded with an experience that will not easily be forgotten. Is it a good film? In many ways, it is – but it's not without its flaws either. Then again, this is little more than a student film extended to feature length, so these shortcomings are easily forgiven. Overall it's an extremely interesting – if harrowing – portrait of how badly things can go wrong when a group of any kind succumbs to the politics of power and allow themselves to be engulfed in the madness of loyalty at any cost. Sure, the film could have benefited from slightly faster pacing, but somehow it just about works in its favour, in this instance. This is certainly no masterpiece, but it's a fascinating cinematic work nonetheless. Worth at least one watch, if only to see the unbelievable human carnage for yourself. And I will add that director, editor and writer Kazuyoshi Kumakiri looks set to be a force to be reckoned with if this debut feature of his is anything to go by.
Movie Score
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