Some movies come off like actor’s workshop experiments, where the players are given a scenario — no matter how improbable — and are expected to play it straight through without breaking character. Karaoke Terror plays like an anthology of such scenes, with the common denominator not really being the plot but the way everyone has to treat the most absurd goings-on with complete seriousness. They do, much to their credit, but sadly not to ours.
As you can probably guess from the title, Karaoke Terror deals (however peripherally) with one of Japan’s most broadly-exported pastimes apart from the Nintendo Wii. On one side we have a gang of twentysomething guys whose idea of a big thrill is to drive a van out to the shore, set up a PA system, and sing the greatest hits of the Showa era in kooky costumes. On the other side, we have a clutch of women in their forties — all named “Midori”, all divorced and with only the most tentative of connections between them at first. When one of the kids flips out and slashes a Midori’s throat open, the other girls band together to get revenge. Soon each side is arming themselves with progressively more dangerous military hardware, from motorcycle-mounted spears to illegal guns to rocket launchers to … you get the idea.
When one of a gang of karaoke-loving young men turns deadly,
it's up to the surviving gang of middle-aged women to take them down.
Now the bad news: it sounds a lot funnier than it actually is. Once the basic setup’s been established, the movie follows it through to the bitter end with all the aplomb and grace of a drunk driver going off a cliff. There are three kinds of scenes: a) people sitting around and declaiming utter absurdities to each other and nodding “Yes! That’s right!”; b) people singing (usually badly) from The Complete Showa Songbook; and c) people killing each other. The one thing that’s closest to an insight — it’s only while engaged in this war that the girls begin to feel truly alive again — is handled with leaden obviousness.
The other shame of it is how it all amounts to a waste of a good cast. The impossibly handsome Ryuhei Matsuda is the closest thing we have to a hero on the male side, but he’s given little to do but pose behind a microphone and muse abstractly in voice-overs. The Midoris, too, get credit for some inspired work — the funeral for the first of their dead friends is quietly hilarious — but, again, they (along with everyone else) eventually run headlong into the screenplay. On the plus side, dependably grizzled Yoshio Harada shows up as a hardware-store owner with a raging hatred of all things middle-aged and female.
Sadly, the premise is funnier than the execution,
and even any potential cultural commentary gets lost int he shuffle.
There are, again, individual moments that work. I mentioned the funeral, and the scene where one of the boys tries to persuade the others he’s a stone cold killer (he waves the bloody knife under their noses) is quite funny — even if the way it’s followed up shows how the movie has a curious lack of interest in its own preposterousness. But such points are few and far between. I guess you could argue that it’s all funnier if you’re Japanese, or that it’s clever cultural commentary on the gulf between the generations or sexes or something … but in my mind it makes more sense to save that kind of analysis for a movie that actually works as, you know, a movie. What we have here is just an attitude in search of a story.