What the fuck is wrong with Japan? For years, scholars have tried to determine what exactly has caused the entire island nation to be so strange and bizarre. What could lead grown, adult women to idolize a cartoon cat? What drives a brilliant engineer to dedicate his life to designing sex robots? And seriously, what’s up with the game shows? Much like the many who came before me, I have no clue. All I know is that there’s some seriously strange shit going on over there. Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to present Exhibit #9,478 in the case of “What the Hell, Japan”, a film known as “DeathTube: Broadcast Murder Show”.
For years now, Americans have been ripping off Japanese horror films. Ever since some money-grubbing film exec got their hands on a copy of a little film known as “Ringu”, American audiences have been bombarded with horror films from the far East. “The Grudge”, “The Eye”, “One Missed Call”, the list easily contains some of the worst films of the 2000’s. Unbeknownst to us however, the Japanese weren’t sitting back and just letting us Americans steal their cinematic treasures. Somewhere in the Land of the Rising Sun, some money-grubbing Japanese film exec got their hands on a little film called “Saw”. After seeing that film, that Japanese film executive decided it was time for the Japanese to finally strike back with their revenge, a Japanese adaptation of an American film. And so “DeathTube” was born.
At least, that’s how I like to think it went down.
If you’d like to make your own “DeathTube” at home, the recipe is quite simple. Take two parts “Saw”, one part “The Ring”, a splash of “Hello Kitty” and garnish with a twist of “Hide and Go Kill” (yes, my favorite Japanese series resurfaces again) and viola! Your very own “DeathTube”. To say this film is derivative is a bit of an understatement. Sadly, “DeathTube” is not about a giant tube that goes around killing people (it’d be way better if that was the case). What we’re dealing with is actually a “very rare” website called DeathTube, which is in essence a snuff version of Youtube. I’m not exactly sure how a website can be “very rare” (shitty bandwidth?), but that’s what the terrible subtitles say so let’s just roll with it.
So we’ve got this website which is filled with videos of people being murdered. Kind of like nutshots on Youtube, only more painful and less funny. And much like Youtube, often times they’ve covered in this really annoying text bubbles that just get in the way, annoy the hell out of you and are horribly mis-spelled and stupid. I think this was supposed to be the director integrating viewer comments into the film, but it just winds up being horribly confusing as everything is subtitled and they often pop up during dialogue with no indication as to whether they are spoken by the characters in the film or those watching them at home. It’s a really poor idea. Much like most of this film.
In a twist that I’m sure will shock absolutely no one, users of the website wake up one night to find themselves in a dark room filled with puzzles. If they work together and solve the puzzles, they get a temporary reprieve from death and get to move on to the next. As if that wasn’t enough of a similarity to “Saw” for you, we’ve even got the Japanese version of Jigsaw guiding everyone through the maze. Only instead of a creepy puppet, we get a dude in a giant yellow bear costume that sort of looks like something out of an episode of Barney. I’ll give the film this, the bear was actually kind of frightening, though that may be partially because it gave me PTSD flashbacks of a date I went on with a crazy girl I strongly suspect was a furry. Actually, that’s exactly why I found it frightening, there’s nothing scary about it at all unless you’ve had that experience. And if you have, we need to start a support group.
Unfortunately, this bear dude doesn’t have the budget Jigsaw did. Where Jigsaw could design big elaborate traps with customized death equipment, our furry friend here has to make do with more mundane puzzles. Like a Rubik’s Cube. Or making someone spin around a baseball bat a bunch and then walk across a room. Or make them eat a poisoned donut suspended from the ceiling by a string then run an obstacle course to get to the antidote. What can I say? Japan’s been crippled with deflation for nearly three decades. You just don’t have that kind of prime empty warehouse real estate or disposable income that Jigsaw had at his disposal. America: Fuck Yeah.
What follows is two super slow hours of a bunch of people solving really mundane, stupid puzzles, getting killed in pretty stupid (albeit gory) ways, some dudes in furry suits and a bunch of crappy melodrama. I suspect that this film was intended to be a comedy or a spoof in it’s native language, however the subtitle work is so piss-poor and incomprehensible because of the stupid viewer comments, I couldn’t really tell. This has been a bit of a theme in a lot of the DVDs I’ve watched from Cinema Epoch. Cinema Epoch: you’re on notice. Stop cutting corners with the subtitling.
Though in a strange way, being so awful and strange almost works in this films favor. Given that it’s such a giant ripoff of “Saw”, it’s extremely accessible to the American audience. Yet everything else about it is so goddamn weird and Japanese (for lack of a better word) it’s surreal. We’re actually supposed to feel tense and anxious while watching a grown male hoola-hoop in his tighty-whiteys to save his life. While the desired effect doesn’t happen, it’s just so odd that it draws you in more, making you want to find out what crazy shit happens next.
Unfortunately what happens next is pretty boring. Really, the whole thing could be compressed down into a thirty minute short. Unfortunately, it’s a two hour feature. Whoops.
After viewing this film, I’m ready to help end our long national nightmare of horrible Japanese horror films. Japan, you win. I promise that I’ll do whatever is within my power to ensure that there will be no more American remakes of your films. All I ask in return is for you to stop sending these films over here. Please. While films like this are moderately interesting and curious given how off the wall crazy and weird they are, at the end of the day, they amount to nothing more than novelties. And by definition, novelties have a limited shelf life. It’s been a solid 13 year run for J-Horror, but sadly, time’s up.