After the massive underground success of the Guinea Pig series, a lot of indie gore films started to pop up on the video scene in Japan. One name synonymous with these type of films is Daisuke Yamanouchi, whose films are often traded around in circles of gore fans by way of beat-up, 10th generation video dubs. Red Room was his first notable film, and I was interested in seeing if it lived up the reputation it’s gained over the years. Surprisingly, the film is pretty damn tame and doesn’t really deserve the notoriety that’s been attached to it.
Four people (three girls and one guy) have all been invited to play the mysterious “King Game”. The prize is ten million yen, and all have chosen to play for various different personal reasons. No one really knows exactly what the game entails, or why it’s being played. It’s not a television show, but there are cameras, and they never see anyone who is putting on the game; it all seems to be personal entertainment for someone that’s watching in another location. After being forced to wait for a period of time, the rules of the game are explained to them.
A deck of cards will be dealt out, one with a king’s crown and the others with the numbers 1-3. Whoever is dealt the card with the king’s crown controls that round, and picks two numbers at random. Whichever two people have those numbers are then given a challenge. If anyone isn’t up to the challenge, they’re disqualified and are out of the game. The last person remaining wins the money. The challenges start off rather tame at first; things like forcing the girls to make out with one another and spinning someone in a chair for 5 straight minutes. But as the participants continue to survive each challenge, the games begin to get more and more intense and twisted, to the point where even the lives of those involved may be in peril.
It’s obvious rather quickly that Red Room is a commentary on just how depraved human beings can be when there’s money involved. Every person is more than willing to degrade themselves and turn on one another (there’s a husband-wife combination involved in the game) at the drop of a dime if it means they might win some money. I’m actually willing to give Red Room some credit here for being ahead of the curve on the phenomenon of game shows like Fear Factor that press people to embarrass themselves for a few bucks. Of course, the Japanese game show scene has been gonzo for years, so it’s obviously more directed at those than the ones that have emerged stateside over the past few years.
Good intentions unfortunately don’t always make a good film, and that’s sadly the case with Red Room. I’m not disappointed because it didn’t measure up to its reputation; I’ve seen many films over the years that were purported to be nasty and weren’t, but I still enjoyed them. Red Room just doesn’t have much to hold your attention. The sex scenes are extended to the point of boredom, and knowing that nothing that great is likely to follow, you won’t find much reason to put up with them to get to the good stuff. And it’s not just the sexual scenes that are drawn out to the breaking point; a scene where a girl is forced to endure being spun around in a chair for 5 minutes goes on for at least 3. It’s not particularly fun to watch, but it did effectively make me feel dizzy.
I’m willing to take into account that Yamanouchi may not have ever intended the film to be entertaining; we’re seeing the underbelly of the human psyche, and the harsher it is the more effective it should be, in theory. But at the end of the day, you need something to immerse you in the story, and there isn’t much that does so in Red Room. Luckily, the film runs at just over an hour, so it’s not as bad it could have been. At least Yamanouchi realized a film of this nature should be kept short.
While the film may lack the audacious nastiness that I was led to believe, there are some pretty sick things on display. In particular, a scene where one contestant is urinated on by another and forced to drink it is rather unsettling and left a bad taste in my mouth. There’s some gross-out projectile puke that came off more funny than disgusting, and the sex scenes never look very pleasant. The most offensive aspect of the film however is the sound effects during scenes featuring kissing and sex. The sounds made me absolutely uncomfortable and a little but nauseous…they sound as if someone sat in front of a microphone and made the most over-the-top and juicy slurping, licking, and popping noises they could. If the intended result was to make the viewer feel sleazy and dirty, it was a vile success.
The film was shot on digital, and looks grimy, grainy, and squalid. In other words, it fits the film perfectly. If the film had a glossy look to it, I’m sure it would have lost much of its impact. The scenes with red lighting are searing and oversaturated, to the point where your eyes start to burn during the longer sections that utilize it. Walls are barren and cold, and the environment is void of any activity or life outside of the four contestants. Just like everything else in the film, the visuals aren't a pleasant experience.
If I’m right, and Daisuke Yamanouchi wanted Red Room to be an uncomfortable, harsh, down-and-dirty experience, then he’s whole-heartedly succeeded. The problem is, he left out much of what makes a good film worth watching, and for that it’s just not really worthy of recommendation. It lacks any type of entertainment or interesting narrative, and doesn’t have the fun FX work that many of the Japanese Video Sickies do to cover up for its shortcomings. It’s a unique entry into its genre, but you’ll more than likely be looking to exit this game early.
Unearthed Films’ release of Red Room is suitably stripped-down to maintain the underground allure the film has carried around with it over the years. The film itself is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and for a film shot on digital, it looks just fine. Remember, the film really isn’t supposed to look good. The audio is surprisingly clear and crisp, but the English subtitles are a bit of a disappointment. For one thing, they’re on the small side, and this is coming from someone that watched the disc on a 37” HDTV. The subs also have some bizarre punctuation and spacing errors. The only extras are a small stills gallery and trailers for other Unearthed releases.
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