Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge

Bottom Line: A nimbly executed high school fantasy with rip-roaring VFX action.

Tokyo International Film Festival

TOKYO -- "Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge" by Takuji Kitamura, a teenage ninja vs. mutant flick, is coherently scripted, genre-savvy and visually stimulating, it features a kickass female lead, and even psychological insight into adolescent blues. Premiered at TIFF, "Chainsaw" was one of the few films in the Japanese Eyes section that received warm applause. Meant mainly for teenagers in Japan, the film will win over more mature genre fans in overseas fantastic film festivals and DVD markets.

Megumi Seki ("Honey and Clover," "Arch Angels") is Eri, a high school student who believes it's her destiny to fight a chainsaw-wielding monster who descends from the moon in a shower of snowflakes. Enter Yosuke (Hayato Ichihara), wuss-extraordinaire, who gets in Eri's way while dodging cops after a shoplift attempt. It's "love at first sight" for him, and "out of my sight!" from her, but somehow, Yosuke sticks around to become Eri's chaperone and beverage-server during her duels with the mysterious monster. In time, the two realize they share similar identity crises and tragic memories, and learn the meaning of interdependence.

At first glance, Eri appears to be cut from the same cloth as Lolita warriors of Japanese manga and action-fantasies like "Azumi" and "Princess Blade." Looking undaunted and delectable in a yellow school blazer, she levitates and dives, throwing Ninja darts like a ballerina. However, it gradually transpires that her relationship with the Chainsaw Man has darker psychological roots that recall the Freudian undertones of "Candy Man" and "Nightmare on Elm Street."

The film boasts some fabulous sets for the fighting scenes, such as an Edo period theme park, an aquarium and an indoor swimming pool. HD cinematography is technically robust, adequately showcasing the inventively-combined CGI and Japanese style action choreography -- which are used in moderation. Editing is clean and streamlined.

The narrative sags a bit when it settles on comically chronicling the school life of Yosuke and his equally deadbeat classmates. Yosuke's dream of challenging his dead friend Noto -- a rebel who fought for what he believed -- somehow seems too manga-like to ring true. However, the film draws attention to the apathy and spinelessness of contemporary youth. Indeed a teacher is disappointed with his students for NOT talking back, and just caving in to the system.

Digital Frontier Inc/Nikkatsu Studio/Nikkatsu Corporation
Director: Takuji Kitamura
Writer: Hirotoshi Kobayashi
Based on the novel by: Tatsuhiko Takimoto
Producers: Suguru Matsumura, Kazuhiro Hirose, Akira Yamamoto
Director of photography: Gen Kobayashi
Production designer: Yasuyo Kawamura
Costume designer: Yukiko Kosato
Eri Yukizaki: Megumi Seki
Yosuke Yamamoto: Hayato Ichihara
Watanabe: Yosuke Asari
Noto: Haruma Miura
Running time -- 109 minutes
No MPAA rating