The Guard from the Underground
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
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!