The Guard from the Underground

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Year: 1992
Rating: 6.0

Kiyoshi Kurosawa was still in the low rent district when he made this little horror thriller. It was another five years to his breakthrough film, Cure. This is feature length but bare bones. It is almost entirely set in one building with a handful of people in the cast, but that actually works in its favor for creating a mood of helpless despair and isolation.  To me a lot of this was black humor - very black - black as a night in a rubber room. It also seemed to mock the whole Japanese corporate work ethic as just creepy and debilitating. It is a good 90-minutes of mayhem and violent murder.

It is Akiko's (Makiko Kuro) first day at Akebono Corporation and she is taking a taxi to work. From the beginning Kurosawa lays down a sense of quiet unease as the driver tells her of a murder committed by a crazy sumo wrestler but adds humor by telling her that he picked up three sumo wrestlers whose weight broke his axle - and ends it by advising her never to make fun of a sumo wrestler as the camera pans to his broken windshield.

At the building the security guard isn't sure where Dept. 12 is and takes her photo. Nobody seems to know about Dept, 12 that has been set up to buy art as an investment. And the few people in the Dept. know nothing about art and rely on Akiko to price paintings by the masters - not that she is an expert. The whole group is just off - in particular the head (Ren Osugi) who invites her into a room and begins to take off his pants. She leaves but makes no complaint and the rest of the group seems to know something like this will take place. The HR man locks his door and sleeps all day anyways so why bother.

There hardly seem to be any other people in this corporation - occasionally some one flits by - on a day when Kurosawa must have had some extra pocket change he has a group of all men standing at the elevator who rush in leaving no room for Akiko. The floors are all narrow empty cheerless corridors and small rooms bathed in a sickly yellow green. A proper place for a psycho to begin killing people. There is a new guard as well - a giant of a man - perhaps the sumo wrestler but never definite - who first kills a fellow guard and stuffs him in a locker with blood leaking out.  Another guard comes across this but says nothing. Other murders follow but no one seems to miss anyone in corporate Japan.

Finally, one night when they are all staying late for overtime, the real hunt begins as all the doors are locked, the lights shut off and phones disabled. I think of it as black humor because the killings are so violent with the victims still kicking about until another blow and then another and then something else - or sticking one alive in a locker and beating it till blood flows out by the quart. Maybe that isn't really any kind of humor but it is so over the top I took it that way. Not sure anyone else would!