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Foreign Objects: Karaoke Terror

Imagine Steven Spielberg’s Munich, only replace the Jews with women in their thirties and the Arabs with teenage slackers. Oh, and they all like to sing and dance. Welcome to the world of Karaoke Terror.
By  · Published on December 17th, 2008

Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to look for films worth visiting. So renew your passport and get your shots, because this week we’re heading to…


Welcome to the world of Karaoke Terror.

The film follows two diverse groups of Japanese citizens who appear in every way as different as day and night, but who are actually more alike than they know.  The Gakis are a gang of young, teenage boys who spend their days and nights hanging out, drinking, eating, and watching their sexy neighbor dance, strip, and shower.  And they love to perform karaoke late at night on abandoned piers, in full costume.  The Midoris are a group of middle-aged women who work, shop, eat, and complain about their ex-husbands.  And they love to perform karaoke in clubs where they also occasionally pick up younger men.  One of the Gakis corners a woman on an outlying street and hits on her rather crudely.  She rejects him, and he slices her throat with a knife.  He brags indifferently to his friends who appear more entertained and curious about the murder than anything else.  The Midoris identify the killer, plan their revenge, and stab the murderer in the throat with a knife-tipped pole while he’s taking a leak against a wall.  Like a game of chess, the turn goes back to the Gakis who retaliate with a gun, and so on.  The violence and the weaponry both escalate absurdly to an explosive and satirical conclusion.

Like I said, the two groups of friends appear quite different on the surface, but are actually quite similar.  The women view the youth as disrespectful and aimless, while the younger generation looks upon these elders as having given up and become inert.  But both feel as though they’ve been pushed apart from society as a whole.  They both feel neglected by the humdrum world around them and can only find release in singing (and eating… there are lots of meals in this movie.)  But what happens when a fire is lit beneath them?  When they find a common motivation beyond the normal constraints of society?  And as they slowly whittle down their numbers, will society even notice?

The apathetic teens find something to do, and the downtrodden women find focus and long-forgotten meaning in their lives.  The bond between the women grows to a point where they begin to not only talk more with each other, but to actually listen, and their shared acts of revenge give their lives the necessity they’ve been lacking.  Both groups claim victimization at first, but as the bodies start to pile up all of their cries become hollow, and you’ll wonder if you should be cheering for anyone at all.  Karaoke Terror is certainly absurd at times, but it also provides more than enough things to ponder.  Are the differences between the young and the old in Japan so irreconcilable that literal bloodshed is the only answer?  Hopefully not, but like the brilliant (and superior) Battle Royale, the satirical prescient seem to think it’s heading that way.  And what about the gender divide in relation to how women are treated post-divorce?  One fifty-ish year-old shop keeper hears the boys plea for a handgun and happily provides a weapon after discovering they plan to use it for revenge against a middle-aged woman.  “What type are they?” he asks angrily. “Are they penniless because their husbands left them? Or the type who don’t make good hostesses because they’re too old?”  He goes on to say that cockroaches won’t be the only ones left alive when the Earth perishes… they’ll be joined by middle-aged women.

The film has some flaws too.  It’s unable to maintain its comically tragic tone consistently, and there are multiple scenes that suffer because of it.  Points are made but then interest wanes as the scene drags on for several more minutes.  A female university student appears repeatedly only to act weird and dispense necessary (but illogically gained) information to the rival gangs.  Some of the bloodiest assaults begin with an obvious CGI slash or stab, before switching to practical effects for the gushing and spurting blood.  None of these issues are deal-breakers though, and I still highly recommend the film.  It’s definitely dark, often funny, and features a teenage thug spurting both blood and urine into the air as he collapses to the ground and dies.

Tetsuo Shinohara directed Karaoke Terror from a novel by Ryu Murakami.  The author is best known to US audiences as the writer behind Takashi Miike’s masterfully creepy Audition.  Normally I’d include the trailer here, but I think it gives away a bit too much of the film’s escalating violence and events.

Karaoke Terror is available on DVD from Synapse Films as part of their Asian Cult Cinema Collection.

The Upside: original and interesting; sporadically bloody; blackly comic

The Downside: more than a few slow spots, could stand to lose about fifteen minutes off the running time; CGI blood; witness from the first revenge killing exists solely to take the place of actual sleuthing or investigation

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.