Hellevator (2004) by Hiroki Yamaguchi

A motley group of individuals find themselves trapped together in an elevator in this dystopian horror. Luchino Fujisaki is an orphaned schoolgirl living in an underground society. She has powers allowing her to communicate telepathically and read other people’s thoughts. After unsuspectingly causing a large fire on a lower floor with a discarded cigarrette she boards an elevator heading up. When they reach floor 99, two criminals, a rapist and terrorist bomber, are brought into the elevator with their guard. Things soon turn violent when the criminals manage to free themselves and kill the guard. Along with the other passengers, Luchino tries to stay alive, while also battling her own traumas.

“Hellevator” is a self-contained horror tale with some fun world-building. We never discover why the people are living underground, or how the authoritarian overseers came to power, but these things offer an interesting backdrop to the drama. Similarly, Luchino is a character whose background we see only brief glimpses of through her own flashbacks. The film remains focussed on creating a claustrophobic atmopshere as the individuals, Luchino, a mother with a pram, a biologist, and a young man, clash with one another. This is a grimy world, dimly lit tunnels, clanking machinery and fascistic overtones. There is a tangible sense of threat throughout, with the gory violence coming as little surprise when tensions finally bubble over. The score features a jazz like bass and percussion, imitating the ramshackle technology and bizarre mix of recognizable motifs (sailor uniforms, salarymen) and the peculiar, such as a pet that appears to be a brain in a jar, or telepathy. While the majority of the film takes place inside the elevator, the story occasionally breaks out with the framing device of a police interrogation that is investigating the events of the film; and the troubled memories of Luchino.

A simple yet effective horror that builds a terrifying vision of the future. The fact that we learn so little about the world makes it all the more unsettling as we consider what other terrors might lurk in the darkness. Luchino is an enjoyable protagonist, playing on the rebellious teen image. There is a theme of anti-authoritarianism and political satire, but the film doesn’t let this stand in the way of the gory action and tightly scripted drama.

Bloody Chainsaw Girl (2016) by Hiroki Yamaguchi

Rio Uchida stars as a chainsaw-wielding teenage delinquent in this slice of silly splatter comedy. Giko Nokomura (Uchida) is a rebellious high-schooler, who inexplicably totes around a chainsaw (telling her teachers it’s due to her family’s construction business). On her way to school to take a make-up test she is waylaid by a group of classmates who have been transformed into cyborgs by Nero Aoi (Mari Yamachi), a troubled fellow student. Amongst them is Sayuri Bakutani (Seira Sato), whose post-human upgrades include the ability to fire rockets from her crotch. As well as these cyborg students, Giko also has to deal with members of the ninja club, led by Hanzo (Yuki Tamaki), a transgender student whose ninja skills are also bolstered by Nero’s experimental cyborgization.

“Bloody Chainsaw Girl” is a tongue-in-cheek splatter comedy, fully aware of its own ridiculousness. Director Hiroki Yamaguchi includes everything that you might expect from the genre: low budget special effects, unnecessary upskirt angles and unexpected nudity, hyper-energetic performances, gory dismemberments, and plot-holes galore. The film’s humour does provide a few puerile laughs and gets by on the sheer audacity of the film-maker’s intentions. Much of what happens seems like an attempt to test out various special-effects, utilising CG and practical effects, with the flimsiest of plots stringing these things together. The film is based on the manga by Rei Mikamoto, and the direction shows this influence in its unrestrained use of dutch-angles and frantic camerawork, as well as the music video-like credits sequence that is straight out of an anime. The score by Masahiko Horikura is emotional and solid. As with the direction, it shows a competence that sometimes seems wasted on this particular story. The film makes great use of its locations. Although the abandoned school and rooftop are staples of the low-budget genre, the underground industrial facility makes a superb villain’s lair.

The cast do a great job with their characters, treating them with largely undeserved reverence. Uchida’s Giko is a no-nonsense, unwilling heroine, more concerned with the results of her test than the bizarre cyborg invasion happening around her; while Mari Yamachi goes all-out super-villain with her over-the-top performances as Nero. At around 80-minutes, the film gets straight into the action and is a clear run to the final showdown. An entertaining splatter film that leans into its silliness. There is a message here, about how loners can choose between two paths, of revenge or acceptance of who they are, as well as references to sexism and bullying; but to be honest the plot and themes are largely iirrelevant. Simply switch off your brain and enjoy the gory spectacle of a high-school girl tearing through cyborgs with a chainsaw.