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Signal 100

Shigunaru 100
2019 / 88m - Japan
Signal 100 poster

Lisa Takeba goes full horror. Comparisons with Battle Royale are easy to make, personally it reminded me more of Miike's Lesson of the Evil and As the Gods Will. A sunny day in an average Japanese classroom ends up a grim and bloody quest for survival, a perfect premise for 90 minutes of slick entertainment.

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The kids find themselves at the mercy of their teacher. He has shown them a video that has hypnotized all of them, leaving them with 100 trigger actions that forces them to commit suicide when performed. The problem is that they have no clue what these actions are, and doing anything out of the ordinary may lead to their untimely death.

It's a fun premise, the performances are solid, the kills are bloody (though not every kill is quite as original) and the pacing is slick. It's a bit of an adjustment to see Takeba handle this type of material, but she does a good job. 100 Signals is a perfectly fine and enjoyable horror film, food for genre enthusiasts.

Haruko's Paranormal Laboratory

Haruko Chojo Gensho Kenkyujo
2015 / 76m - Japan
Haruko's Paranormal Laboratory poster

Ah, the joy of discovering a film that is simply content to entertain in the purest way possible. Lisa Takeba's Haruko's Paranormal Laboratory [Haruko Chojo Gensho Kenkyujo] has zero pretentions, it doesn't try to be anything more than fun, escapist nonsense and it ignores any sensible running time targets. But it sure is a blast.

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Making a film like this comes with penalties though. Unless you're an established director with plenty of clout to waste, getting a film like this properly financed is virtually impossible. Takeba does her very best to cover up the lack of budget, but she's only partially successful. While she's quite generous with funky camera work and visual filters, the film retains a very lo-fi look that betrays its indie roots. It's not a big deal, especially as it's a comedy that draws a lot of humor from its hard-wrought freedom, just don't expect to be dazzled.

The story revolves around Haruko, a young girl who is certain that paranormal phenomena exist. Her many attempts to uncover them never result in concrete proof, until one day she hits the jackpot. After slinging 10.000 insults at her TV set, the television is finally fed up with all the verbal abuse and turns human. After a little spat, the two end up sleeping with each other and start a loving relationship. If this doesn't make any sense, rest assured that the rest of the film goes down that same route, but it's a great starting point for some absurdist comedy, some of it quite grotesque, the rest dry and deadpan.

The only problem with recommending Haruko's Paranormal Laboratory is that the comedy is very much rooted in Japanese pop culture. While not understanding the roots of some of the gags can make the film even more absurd, it might also make it a little too random. The references are quite on the nose and don't require people to have a thorough understanding of Japanese pop culture, but some baseline level of familiarity is definitely a plus here. It's no surprise then that the film never quite found its footing across the ocean.

Films like these often run too long, luckily Takeba was smart enough to wrap everything up after 75 minutes. That means she doesn't get to the "required" 90 minute mark, but I'm happy she didn't needlessly drag out the film just to meet some senseless industry standard. When all the material is depleted, it's just better to end things naturally. That way the film doesn't overstay its welcome and things end on a positive note. There's no forced drama here, no deeper meanings (unless you're really stretching yourself to find one), everything is simply played out for maximum fun. Haruko's Paranormal Laboratory is a warm recommendation, but only if you can stomach the absurdist comedy, Takeba's low budget approach and the overwhelming Japaneseness of it all.

The Pinkie

Samayou Koyubi
2014 / 65m - Japan
Action, Comedy, Drama
The Pinkie poster

Fun and quirky first film of Takeba. With only 60 minutes on the clock, the film wastes no time at all. The plot is pretty absurd, the comedy all over the place. It's an excessively Japanese film, weird and incomparable, but funny and entertaining from start to finish.