Now this wasn’t what I signed up for. I went into X-Cross thinking it would be a gory throwaway, and instead got something closer to Sam Raimi’s gleeful everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. We start off in conventional horror/thriller territory, then roll on through action-comedy, black humor, cyber-thriller, and even girl-girl relationship flicks. Five movies for the price of one.
This could have been a ghastly mess, but instead it’s goofy fun. The whole thing’s been adapted from a novel (not yet in English) written by Nobuyuki Jōkō, with director Kenta Fukasaku (Yo-Yo Girl Cop, son of Kinji) at the helm. I’d been tempted to write him off as a featherweight before — his first movie was, sort of, Battle Royale II, which he took over when his father died and which stunk for reasons unrelated to who was at the helm. (I blame whoever was behind the typewriter.) X-Cross is no Battle Royale, but it’s definitely no Battle Royale II. It’s got absurd, offbeat energy oozing from every pore.
The opening looks like a fairly dodgy horror-movie setup. Two girls, the trendy Aiko (Ami Suzuki) and the reticent Shiyori (Nao Matsushita) head up to a hot-spring resort in the mountains for some time off. The natives are all mush-mouthed hobos, and their hostess is a creepy old granny who brings them disgusting meals of frogs and snakes and asks a few too many leering questions about how well they’ve washed their legs. This place definitely didn’t get listed in the Mobil Travel Guide.
Little do they know the whole place is a tourist trap in the worst possible way. The village has a grisly practice held over from antiquity where the legs of the prettiest women are hacked off as sacrifices for the local gods. Shiyori finds out about this when she finds a strange cellphone ringing in her closet and a panicky-sounding man at the other end begs her to get out of there. He’s a folklore researcher of some kind, or so he says. Soon Shiyori has to escape from the villagers, figure out if this guy is on the level, and find out what happened to Aiko — all without killing the battery on her cell.
Aiko, meanwhile, has problems of her own, as we see in a series of paralleled and interleaved scenes that would make Brian De Palma proud. She’s got a mad-dog killer after her as well, a crazy girl with a suitcase full of cutlery and boots big enough to kick a hole in the Three Gorges Dam. They fight, and fight, and fight, which leads to the most unrepentantly bonkers scene in the film wherein Reika and Aiko go at each other with a chainsaw and a giant pair of scissors. Giant, as in about as big as Cloud Strife’s sword.
The nifty part of the film is how each of these plot developments are kept compartmentalized from each other. We only see half of what’s going on at any given time, which makes for a clever tension-building device. A hint of how this works comes early on when we see get a number of key plot developments delivered to us via clever time-compressed editing — but, again, out of context at first. The climax takes all of the ingredients and propels them straight through the roof, into (and beyond) Everything You Know Is Wrong territory.
Now comes the part of the review where I digress and make some potentially shaky cultural criticism. (Skip this part if you want.) I got burned out fast on horror movies set out in the forbidding countryside, populated by overall-wearing shotgun-and-axe toting hillbillies. There only seemed to be so much mystery and primal dread you could wring out of that archetype. It was probably fresher back when Herschel Gordon Lewis was filming 2000 Maniacs; by the time we got to Rob Zombie and The Devil’s Rejects, the idea was burned out (even if Zombie himself had great fun with it). The backwoods of Japan, on the other hand, have something about them that reaches back a great deal further — a sense that connections to such a distant past aren’t as hard to forge, and much harder to break, than you might think. It seems that much creepier instead of sillier.
Digression over. X-Cross doesn’t need analysis to work, anyway — it’s cleverly-crafted cinematic excess, the sort of thing Japan seems to do better than almost anyone else. The exact reasons why will have to wait for a separate essay. Here, all you need to know is there’s a chainsaw-vs.-Gothic-Lolita battle, and that’s not even the craziest thing they lob at you. You should be able to tell if that’s your idea of fun.