Karma can come back and bite you, as some school bullies eventually realize in Ryo Nakajima's tough and rowdy debut, "This World of Ours."
Karma can come back and bite you, as some school bullies eventually realize in Ryo Nakajima’s tough and rowdy debut, “This World of Ours.” A strange amalgam of concerns, from 9/11 to teen ennui and gang rape, never quite congeal in this bitter, ambitious ultra-indie pic. But the sheer directness of Nakajima’s approach feels like the real deal, suggesting a talent to watch. Gutsy fest programmers should keep their antennae up for this one, while best commercial prospects will be with extreme-o DVD labels.
Hiroki (Yoshihiko Taniguchi) and Ryo (Satoshi Okutso) are part of a loose school gang that routinely bullies weak kid Mitarai (Souta Hasegawa), at the same time ignoring the threats of discipline from teacher Iwayama (Shinmon Akaho). In pic’s disturbing early section, Ami (Arisa Hata), who acts like she’s too cool for the room, eggs Mitarai on to fight back while encouraging more rounds of violence.
Invisible shifts forward in time take events into the guys’ final school years and beyond. Nakajima quotes from both “A Clockwork Orange” and Toshio Matsumoto’s semi-underground ’60s classic “Funeral Parade of Roses” (itself an influence on Kubrick) for a truly unsettling sequence in which the guys send Ami safely home so they can gang-rape a woman in their secret den.
Aftershocks from this night of debauchery feel like the dark hand of fate reaching out and grabbing these young men by the throat. Hiroki’s hopes of landing a corporate job grow more and more unlikely, while his best friend (Takemoto Ogawa) devolves into a slobbering, half-crazed homeless guy, and Ryo — told he’s a failure by his older sister (Natsu Kasyu) and confronted by Iwayama in an intense and bloody faceoff — decides to commit a terror act on a Tokyo skyscraper.
There’s no way Nakajima can hold all of this together, and he doesn’t. But his film’s brooding anarchism and refusal to conform to standard storytelling and even film grammar (his cantered camera and whip-saw editing style produce almost hallucinatory effects) suggests a fledgling helmer who won’t play by the rules.
Perfs are unbelievably raw, so much so at points that the line between make-believe and reality appears to dissolve. In another nod to “Clockwork,” the soundtrack features liberal use of Beethoven symphonies and piano sonatas. Overall production couldn’t be more opposed to the standard polished mode of most Nipponese cinema, which added to the controversial heat directed at the pic during its premiere at Tokyo’s progressive-minded Pia fest.