High-schooler Fujiwara (Yusuke Yamada) is dragged into a mobile game in which students fight to win points in this teen action film. In heavy-handed narration Fujiwara explains his cynical world view, that of a society divided neatly into ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. When he is chased and attacked by a group he finds that thousands of people are playing the “Chain Game”, in which stealing someone’s phone wins you points, and losing means your darkest secret will be revealed to the world. Fujiwara finds himself the target of former friends led by Todoroki (Shunya Shiraishi) and teaming up with an unknown female student.
The film’s problems start with the title, which misrepresents the story by suggesting a splatter-horror film. The Japanese title is more fitting, but would translate poorly to English. The story is formulaic, reminiscent of the mobile-phone driven dread of “Keitai Kanojo”, or the pugilistic high-school antics of “Crows”, and plot hole galore make it hard to relate to the characters. Even within the film, characters manage to come up with a simplistic solution to being hunted via mobile phone (to travel round on a bus during the play time). Another might simply have been to not have a phone (or as one character does, have a phone that doesn’t send e-mails). These solutions never seem to occur to characters with the majority of the narrative relying on this kind of complete lack of common sense. The film has an overly serious tone for such a ludicrous premise; the low-stakes seeming mismatched with the actions of the protagonists. The inclusion of a couple of violent scenes, with stabbings and one character being beaten to death, also seem inserted to give the film a sense of danger, but instead come across as completely unnecesary and inexplicable given what we know of the characters. The ridiculous plot, melodramatic acting, and amateurish cinematography mark this out as a low-budget experiment. The best parts of the film are the chase and fight sequences, with elements of parkour injecting some much-needed excitement to proceedings. However, the film seems intent on pushing the dramatic elements which are far weaker.
Fujiwara’s puerile dog-eat-dog mentality, suggesting a strict dichotomy of weak and strong individuals would perhaps have been an interesting idea to explore. The film also raises the spectre of the famous “Stanford Prison Experiment”, in which participants given the roles of prisoners and guards came slowly to enact those roles with increasing violence and abuse of power. “Tokyo Gore School” sets up these ideas of bullying, the corrupting nature of power, social hierarchies, and even limply gestures towards society reflecting our atavistic tendencies. However, it loses its way once it gets going, with the mobile “Chain Game” not offering much in the way of insight into human relations. A muddled ending leaves the audience with mixed feelings about Fujiwara. A missed opportunity to tell an interesting story about power dynamics in society, the danger of mobile environments promoting bullying and violence.