Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge

Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge (2007): Japan – directed by Takuji Kitamura

Not rated by the MPAA – contains violence and a little blood

Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge is a rather charming romantic drama/coming-of-age film, gorgeously shot on some fabulous locations.  Young Yosuke (played by pretty-boy Hayato Ichihara) is a fairly typical high school kid.  He lives in a boarding school, goes to class, has a couple of close friends, and is fairly apathetic about life.  His coolest friend, Noto (Yôsuke Asari), dies in a motorcycle accident, leaving Yosuke confused about life.

He can never be as cool as Noto, a kid who runs the laps received as punishment for being tardy in double-time.  A kid so cool he can’t stand to see two rival gangs face off only to have their leaders apologize to one another, forcing him to take on both gangs simultaneously.  A kid so cool that he drives his motorcycle very fast, not caring whether there might be a car around the next corner.

But Yosuke is uncool.  He can barely stand up for himself; he doesn’t have the guts to fight for anything he believes in, and hardly the guts to believe in anything at all.  But he is perky and chipper, happy to go through life without worrying about being a better person.  Until he meets a pretty, young teenager named Eri (Megumi Seki) in a deserted park.  He’s immediately drawn to her, and to the gigantic chainsaw-wielding masked monster that attacks her, flying out of the moon in a swirl of snowflakes.

After surviving the ensuing battle he strikes up a friendship with this lone warrior-woman.  He discovers that these battles are ongoing and that she can never turn and run.  She must fight this creature, to the death, with whatever she has on hand; a golf club, a bokken, even a telescoping unipod.  Soon Yasuke learns that this monster is a physical manifestation of Eri’s immense sadness stemming from the loss of her family and friends.  It will haunt her until she manages to deal with it, either until she destroys it or it manages to kill her.

All of these elements are carefully balanced.  The film switches between the drama and budding romance of Yosuke and Eri, Yosuke’s other relationships at school, his sorrow over Noto’s death, his conviction that he will always be a wuss, and epic chainsaw battles.  For a film running slightly under two hours it contains not quite enough chainsaw battles, but their scale and visual appeal make up for the lack in quantity.  The monster is forbidding and terrifying, looking like one of the chainsaw-wielding freaks from Resident Evil 4.  All of the CG, from Eri’s wire-fu to her clashes with the monster’s chainsaw blades, look marvelous.  Only a couple times do the visuals enter into camp territory, but these are easily forgiven on account of the film’s sincerity and heart.

The movie tackles a number of interesting concepts while melding numerous genres together (there’s even a music video featuring Yosuke, Noto, and their friend).  Just the idea of a dreadful monster that plagues one’s soul after immense sadness enters their life is fascinating.  That the film handles it in such a straight-forward manner is humorous and engaging.  The production is top-notch, and the acting satisfactory; no single element breaks the magic that the film somehow manages to conjure.  Some of the battle locations are truly gorgeous, ranging from an empty swimming pool complete with high dives to a deserted street lined with huts reminiscent of Yojimbo or Lady Snowblood.

In the United States the film is being marketed as the next Japanese shock film, in the vein of Tokyo Gore Police [review here], but it ends up being much more similar to enjoyable dramedies like Ping Pong [review here].  The battles are violent but relatively blood-less.  There are innumerable occasions for the panty-shot, much adored in various parts of Japanese pop culture, but these are all handled chastely.  There is very little bad language, and Yosuke and Eri’s relationship remains wholesome and meaningful.  It is a shame that the DVD cover states that Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge is “A Cutting Edge Martial Arts Buzz Saw,” because this will give the wrong impression to a number of viewers.  So, too, does the label “Uncut Special Edition” seem to indicate that heads will roll and blood will spout.  But those hoping for another violent example of Japanese shock cinema will be disappointed, and this is a shame.  Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge is thoughtful, sweet, melancholic, and utterly ridiculous.  It is also very enjoyable, on its own terms.

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