Director: Makoto Shinozaki
Running time: 72 min.
Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr
“Die! Directors, Die!” feels very much like a giant joke being played on its audience. But the question is whether it is a sneakily elaborate one that actually has some meaning behind its attempts at comedy or a winding, clumsily told one that botches its own punch line. The surface elements of the film will likely turn off some viewers right away: shakey, unpolished MiniDV camerawork; jarring, shrill jump scares and bursts of violence and a cheap, in-your-face approach to gore that seems directly inspired by the notorious “Guinea Pig” film series. In many respects, it cleanly fits in with the multitudes of v-cinema schlock that have come before it. But where it throws a curve ball of-sorts is in its numerous comments on filmmaking and the true roles of both directors and movies, which are first introduced through its amusingly provocative title.
“Die! Directors, Die!” opens with a student’s graduating film being shown in a screening room at the newly relocated Film School of Tokyo. The project is essentially a loud and clunky mash-up of horror movie imagery that the young director intended to be “the ultimate horror film.” His teacher, Shimazaki, harshly criticizes the film and labels it as a disgrace to filmmaking, but shortly after he in turn is denounced by another student who hurls such scathing remarks as, “Pure directorial visions suck!” This causes Shimazaki to suffer a mental breakdown, and he bursts back into the screening room armed with a spear attached to a camera that brings to mind a similar weapon from Michael Powell’s famous “Peeping Tom.” With it, he claims forty-two victims in an extended, over-the-top massacre sequence before attempting to kill himself, then vanishing. Four years later, a group of film students led by Natsuki, their controlling director, seek out the site of the incident to shoot their own film. However, odd paranormal occurrences and strange behavior from some of the crewmembers soon give way to a chaotic and unpredictable onslaught of events.
Perhaps to look too closely at – or react too negatively to – the rough, amateurish quality of “Die! Directors, Die!” is to miss or ignore the opinions declared by the young filmmaker at the beginning, who proudly claims he doesn’t care at all about film theory and believes he makes films for audiences, not himself. Or maybe it is the highly negative portrayal of directors, from the naïve student to Shimazaki to the crazed Natsuki, that is most important here. Several other characters also trash-talk cinematic authors, including a member of Natsuki’s crew who exclaims, “Directors are all a bunch of lunatics.” It could be that all of this is meant to address and attack the tendency of filmgoers – particularly cinephiles – to focus on the director and his or her voice as the main creative factors in a film. And in turn, perhaps cinema itself – or, at least, the kinds of cinema that commonly attract attention and praise – is being rejected outright, and “Die! Directors, Die!” is meant to be seen as a piece of anti-cinema that gleefully embraces its unattractive techniques as an extended middle finger to established habits and expectations.
But for every intriguing, potentially thought-provoking ingredient, including the anti-director remarks, a number of references to well-known films and filmmakers and a trip to snowy Yubari – of course, home to the legendary Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival – there are at least two that throw wrenches into the works, blurring any meaningful attempts at coherent commentary with goofiness, immaturity and befuddlement. The horror plotline, complete with classic pale-skinned, long-haired, contorting ghosts and a violence-inducing video recording, seems to suggest an attempt at a full-fledged genre product rather than a clever deconstruction. The purposely icky, gratuitous instances of violence come across as plain silly and designed solely to court shocks and laughs – especially when it reaches such ludicrous points as a newly-born, clearly fake baby being swung around a room by its umbilical cord. The characters are never fully developed enough to warrant a proper connection with the viewers, and their wandering trajectories are often cumbersome and tiring to watch unfold. Altogether, despite all the suggestions that there is something liberating and valuable to take away from the shamelessly crude nature of “Die! Directors, Die!” I simply felt that it was too muddled and unrefined to be taken seriously all the way. But then again, maybe I’m just blind to the inherent suckiness of pure directorial visions.