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In a near mirror image of his first film, the singularly titled Let’s Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club (exactly what it sounds like), provocative director Eisuke Naito switches sex and gender for his sophomore effort, Litchi Hikari Club. Stomping over similar ground about disaffected youth overwhelmed by unfocused aggression, Litchi is the latest manga adaptation to come down the pipeline, cementing the form’s position as the Japanese film industry’s version of YA novels. Based on Usamaru Furuya’s Lychee Fight Club, the film is loaded with the kind of subtle jabs at proper society and authority and all manner of over the top gore that have made the books and their ancillary product such a hit at home. Genre festivals are a lock for Litchi and broader release in Asia seems likely. Overseas niche markets that dabbled with other manga-based films (like the recent Attack on Titan) and distributors that regularly trade in gonzo Japanese fantasy would do well to check this out on the heels of its premiere at Busan.
Litchi Hikari Clubstarts with a classic genre film moment: a dude in a rubber suit dripping with KY Jelly. He’s the imaginary friend of insular elementary school boy Tsunekawa, who clearly has an overactive imagination. Years later, Tsunekawa has morphed into Zera (Yuki Furukawa), the fascistic middle school cult leader hell bent on eliminating the “filthy” scourge of Keikoh Town: adults. Youth and beauty are the order of the day. This is Fight Club with way more rules (10 to be exact) and the next great moment comes in a pursuit with nail guns as the weapon of choice. The club finds a woman on the street to make an example of, and the gore begins. It ends miserably for everyone.
Unfortunately Naito doesn’t quite maintain that goofy early pace and the film settles into a more standard groove, introducing the rest of boys: Niko (Ikeda Junya), the blindly devoted true believer and right hand; Jaibo (Mamiya Shotaro), the manipulator; Dentaku (Tozuka Junki), the engineer; Duff (Masaki Reiya), Tamiya (Nomura Shuhei) and Kaneda (Fujiwara Kisetsu), who are friends starting to question the rules of Hikari Club. The gang is rounded out with Jacob and Raizo (Okayama Amane and Matsuda Ryo), whose characters are defined by being the “other ones.” Hikari plans on taking over the city with an assist from a robot they cobble together, a kind of sinister Iron Giant they dub Litchi. All that’s missing is a queen to rule with, which they finally get—with Litchi’s help—in Kanon (Nakajo Ayami), whose character is defined by being the girl. The main thrust of Litchi Hikari Club isn’t the takeover of city, it’s the struggle the boys confront as burgeoning adults—emotionally, intellectually, sexually—they claim to shun. In addition to dissention in the ranks, there could be a Judas out to usurp Zera.
Though the film is chock full of nuttiness (lychee fruit eroticism!) it is also strangely absent of any joy or fun or humor, with the exception of a few moments as they cult builds its robot; it’s just not cheeky enough to lift the violence from the gutter. And though Shuhei acquits himself nicely as the growing conscience of the gang who inserts his independence, his counterpart in Furukawa relies to heavily on the Boisterous Evil Laugh to convey Zera’s brand of megalomaniacal menace.
The performances are there in service of the spectacular splatter, so what lifts Litchi above many films of its ilk is standout art direction and production design. Tomoya Yamadaand Sou Hashimotocreate a vividly besmogged Keikoh Town, with its and blood red moon, that exists in nearly perpetual darkness. Submerged in thick smog, the steely, industrial skylin is one of those fictional, indeterminate yet universal futuristic Japanese cityscapes that Philip K. Dick would be proud of. Sound mixer and effects director Noriyoshi Yoshida and Hiroki Matsuura, with composer Hisashi Arita, take a page from the Tetsuo: The Iron Man sound manual for a sometimes discordant soundtrack that adds to the overall atmosphere (though it never reach Tetsuo heights—or depths). Capping to off is Litchi himself (realized by voice actor Tomokazu Sugita), a hulking mass of metal the gives the film its heart.
Production company: Marble Film
Cast: Shuhei Nomura, Ayami Nakajo, Yuki Furukawa, Shotaro Mamiya, Reiya Masaki, Junya Ikeda, Kisetsu Fujiwara, Junki Tozuka, Ryo Matsuda, Amane Okayama, Tomokazu Sugita
Director: Eisuke Naito
Screenwriter: Keisuke Tominaga, Eisuke Naito
Producer: Mai Sugiyama, Yuya Tanaka
Director of photography: Yoko Itakura?
Production designer: Sou Hashimoto?
Costume designer: Kazuhiro Sawataishi?
Editor: Ryuji Miyajima?
Music: Hisashi Arita?
World sales: Nikkatsu Corporation
No rating, 114 minutes
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Portia de Rossi
James Gordon Meek