Wednesday, October 21, 2015

HubrisWeen 2015, Day 16: Psycho Shark (2009)

One of the most notorious stories among fans of horror movies is of a movie called The Last Shark, an Italian horror movie meant to cash in on a Jaws. An American distributor was set to release it as Great White in the US--until Universal Studios unleashed the lawyers that had given Bruce the Shark his nickname. That movie did not make it to theaters by the time they were done, and has never been officially released in the US at all lest Universal smell blood again.

So it takes guts to try and release a film on DVD in the US as Jaws in Japan, with cover art that looks almost identical to Great White's poster!

Today on "Chumming for Lawsuits"...
Unsurprisingly, either someone at Cinema Epoch realized their error or saw a dorsal fin dragging a briefcase and retitled the film Psycho Shark. But perhaps we should have been hoping that they wouldn't be so smart.

The film opens with digital camcorder footage of two young women in bikinis cavorting in the surf off Okinawa. Sadly, King Caesar will not be appearing in this film. A third girl is apparently filming and she hands the camera off to another so she can be filmed--hilariously, this is framed so that the camera can be focused directly on their breasts as it is handed off.

Also, don't expect me to bother with names much in this review. Character names are rarely mentioned and the IMDb doesn't give a shit.

The movie that dares to recreate watching someone else's vacation footage!
We then abruptly cut to a moonlight sky, and a close-up of someone's eye looking through curtains. Sadly, this is not about to segue into a remake of Un Chien Andalou.

A girl in a towel sits in a darkened hotel room, and looks at a camcorder on a shelf. She then begins to watch the same footage we were just being subjected to. During which, we see all three girls walking back onto the beach. I have no idea if we're meant to infer from this that there is a fourth person holding the camera or if the filmmakers are just incompetent. My money is on the latter.

The TV she is watching on suddenly cuts to Poltergeist-like static before a rapid series of cuts, on the footage, shows her bloody violence being done to the girls. Bloody limbs, someone falling in a shower and leaving blood smears: the usual. The girl doesn't react to this at all, of course, because...I have no idea why.

The credits then roll over helicopter footage of a beautiful beach, while a song that I swear sounds like it wants to be a hard rock cover of the Jaws theme plays. Also, it's rarely a good sign in a film from the last decade when the visual effects credit is one guy. We get a momentary glimpse of a decent CGI shark outline in the water before the English title appears.

And now to meet our actual characters, Miki (Nomani Takizawa) and Mai (Airi Nakajima), as they ride in the bed of a pick up truck. They're clothed, but clearly headed for the beach. Their dialogue with the driver of the truck establishes that they're bumming a ride off of him, possibly even hitchhiking since they talk about almost having to sleep outside.

Of course, riding in the back is rather dull so they amuse themselves by taking turns standing up and hollering that the other is an idiot. Look, I don't know, maybe it's silly writing or maybe it's a cultural thing. They get the driver to guess where they're from and then teasingly refuse to answer when he guesses incorrectly.

And then the film reveals that it is being shot by a moron when we get a shot of clouds in the sky that goes on for way longer than it has any right to. This is followed by a shot of our heroines walking onto a beach, finding a polaroid of the girls from the opening in the sand, and then being greeted by a man who escorts them to the nearby hotel and informs them that the hotel provides their guests with free video cameras. The entire sequence is shot aimed at the sand so that all we see are feet and legs, and it stays pointed at the sand for several seconds after the scene ends.

Boy, this film sure is riveting.

Once in their room, Miki comments that it's dusty, Mai tells her not to complain, and then they both decide it's time to hit the beach after Mai does a sort of striptease to remove her sundress from her bikini. This is followed by a seven second static shot of the exterior of the hotel. Then we see from the camcorder's POV again as Mai films Miki trying to choose a swimsuit from her suitcase. Mai jokingly films Miki changing into her bathing suit beneath a towel, but quickly shifts gears to swinging the camera all around the room like she's recreating The Blair Witch Project.

They talk about finding hot guys and Mai mentions a guy they met earlier named Kenji. Miki again objects to Mai filming her changing--even though, thanks to bad white balancing and poor angles, Miki is but a silhouette against the sunny window--so Mai decides to film the room's radio. I can't object to Mai calling the radio "ancient retro" since it looks almost as old as I am.

The film, apropos of nothing, shifts to an angle looking down from the corner of the room so we are momentarily relieved of Mai's cinematography and get some almost side-boob from Miki. Then it cuts right back to Mai's filming as Miki asks for help tying the string. As soon as Mai sets the camera down to tie it, the film goes back to that other angle. And then we're back to Mai's filming for the big reveal of Miki in her bathing suit, complete with dramatic towel drop.

Look, movie, I agree that Nonami Takizawa looks great in a bikini, but we both know you only set up this grand reveal because you don't have enough story to fill ten minutes without padding every possible scene out.

I, um. I don't really have a caption here.
The girls take turns filming each other's breasts in close-up, set the camera down to pose together and make faces, and of course do multiple sexy poses because this film is the part of Michael Bay's Id that doesn't contain explosions.

Finally, they go to the beach so Mai can film Miki jiggling down the beach and running around in the surf, before Miki takes the camera to film Mai. Despite Miki's earlier claim that she was "going to swim a lot," it looks like they never go more than hip deep in the water.

And now it's time for a shower scene! The lighting in the shower is a shade of burnt orange that just kind of makes you feel grungy. If we were supposed to feel scummy here, then good work, movie! Oh, and don't get any ideas--Mai is showering in her bikini. Why? Beats me. I think this is supposed to be just a beach shower stall, but it still seems weird. It's especially odd that she soaps her breasts under the top. Maybe I'm just a silly man, but I don't think women tend to shower like this in reality.

An ominous POV cam enters the scuzzy shower building, with a sinister chord accompanying it. Mai senses she is not alone, but there's no one there when she pulls back the curtain so she goes back to showering. However, we see that there are some bare feet in the next stall. Interestingly, that weird orange coloring leaves the scene midway through so they can't even light or color time this damn thing consistently.

Somewhere, a man walks along the beach. Mai returns to the room, where Miki has hooked up the camera to the TV...just to film stuff and see it on the TV. God, even the characters are bored witless. Mai decides to go shopping since there's no food in their fridge. Miki decides to stay behind and do more filming. But even she gets bored of that and decides to try and find the remote since the TV doesn't work. What she finds, instead (dramatic musical sting!) is a camcorder tape under the bed. Mai is meanwhile talking to some guy in a Hawaiian shirt outside their room who is heading to the beach to have a barbecue. He's carrying a tray, which Mai immediately offers to help carry--no doubt because he's not a bad sight.

As they walk down the beach, Mai tells the guy that Miki is waiting for her to come back with food but there's no stores nearby. When he confirms there's nothing around, Mai gleefully says that it's just too bad for Miki. Some friend!

Now Miki watches the same vacation footage earlier, and we get to watch her be bored until she decides to fast forward. Don't give me ideas, movie! Even watching a beautiful woman looking bored is still watching someone else's boredom, but this scene continues doggedly onward. We get a brief break to watch Strange Guy grilling food while Mai watches, before we cut back to Miki jumping on the beds and looking out the window in boredom.

This movie is 70 minutes long but it feels like it takes longer than a Lord of the Rings marathon.

Mai and Strange Guy--whom I'm going to just go ahead and tell you is actually Kenji, despite the fact Mai referenced him by name earlier on in the hotel room but now acts like they just met--eat their food while a nearby camera records them. The movie insists this is ominous. And now it's time for Miki to have an ogling, but nudity-free shower scene. She hears the ominous music start up and opens the curtain--

And a series of bizarre cuts show us one of the girls from the vacation footage in the shower, bloody and crying as someone advances on her with a video camera in their hands, before throwing her to the side...and then the film cuts to her friends filming her shock after they surprised her in the shower with the video camera. The camera POV randomly jumps to diegetic and non-diegetic throughout this bit just to make it more disorienting,

The video then cuts to two of the girls being filmed while they discuss that one of them has finally found a guy she likes. They tease her about it,  The three take turns showing how they would confess their love. I start wondering if there's a video of paint drying that I could be watching instead.

Finally, we cut to two of the girls following the third with her new fella, bum bum bum, Kenji, And look, Kenji even has a Hawaiian shirt on in the footage. They follow the two, but the girl recording suddenly shouts out that the battery is going to die.

--and then Miki finishes yanking the shower curtain back. The Hell?! Satisfied she was just hearing a pointless interlude, she returns to showering.

Back in the camera footage, Kenji is filming Mai playing in the surf. Mai films Kenji playing in the surf, then her own breasts (ostensibly to show her stomach sticking out), and then they pose together. Then the tape runs out, but sadly the movie is still going. While Miki blow dries her hair, a bunch of shady guys in shorts--whose faces we never see--meet outside the hotel. One hands over a stack of camcorder tapes, promising "the usual stuff." In return he receives a small chrome shark figurine. "He'd be cute if he were this small," he muses aloud as he turns the figurine over in his hands. There are the expect assurances that they'll meet again and then they part ways.

Miki decides to continue watching the vacation footage, until she suddenly recognizes Kenji playing in the surf with the girls. As an aside, I realize everyone is complaining about how cold the water is but nobody is ever freaking swimming! It's like they're terrified of drowning if the water reaches higher than their waist. Well, maybe that fear is founded because randomly the video cuts out during a seaweed fight to show one of the girls flailing underwater before blood billows into the frame. Clearly this is not the same stock as the video camera, and indeed Miki doesn't react to it, so it's not something she's seeing.

This movie is trying my patience even before Miki rewinds and watches the whole seaweed tossing scene over again. Why?! Why must you make yourself longer, movie? Miki gets bored of watching the girls tell the camera that they don't want to go back to Tokyo and decides to take a nap. Which we watch her settle in for. Just as you're wondering if we're just gonna watch her sleep, the film segues into a dream sequence--because things have been too coherent so far, clearly.

Kenji stands in the ocean at dusk. The moon looks down. In daylight, Miki wades into the ocean where Mai is floating on an inner tube. Miki wades in up to her armpits, but then sees a CGI shark fin slicing through the water. She freezes in place and calls out to Mai to get away. Her frantic jiggling is not enough, as the underwater POV cam rushes towards the oblivious Mai--

--and Miki calmly wakes up, turning to see Mai sleeping on the other bed. I am astounded that they didn't pull the jerking awake trope. Fade to black for longer than necessary, before we see an older man in a Hawaiian shirt carrying a bucket away from the water. This is...sinister? Miki wakes up alone, goes to get some tea from the fridge, and sees the camera is missing. She goes outside and finds it just lying on a step, apparently left by Mai. So she picks it up and watches the last footage we saw of Mai and Kenji--before the footage shifts to Kenji and the girl he was romancing earlier. Never mind that Mai stopped filming because the tape had run out.

As her friends watch and record, Kenji walks the girl out to the end of a rocky jetty--and then pulls out a knife and stabs her in the stomach. Some heavy metal music kicks up before the other girls apparently run away and the tape ends. Mai walks up just then so Miki tries to show her what she just watched. However, she can't cue it up to the right spot so Mai accuses her of just being jealous. As Miki continues to try and persuade her, Kenji shows up and Mai walks away with him--only pausing long enough to tell Miki to just go on home because she is going to stay. Miki watches helplessly as her friend walks off with an apparent murderer.

Miki lies down in bed, then is replaced by one of the girls from the opening. That girl gets up and then we see basically all the camera footage repeated but from the perspective of the movie instead of the on-screen camera and all MOS: the three girls playing in the surf, Miki and Mai in the hotel room picking out swimsuits, and then Miki and Mai frolicking in the surf. I'm only slightly ashamed that I don't mind this so much because the film randomly decides to employ slow-motion as Miki bounces in the surf. Yes, I'm apparently 13.

Then the film just starts jumping around between Mai and Kenji and the three girls--because apparently this is all happening in Miki's head. So now she gets off the bed. As Mai and Kenji head out to that same jetty, Miki watches the tape of Kenji murdering the girl again. This time the tape continues and she sees the girl's friends rush over to where kenji is, indeed, standing over her dead body with a knife. He calmly turns and seemingly stabs one of them, before rubbing blood on her and throwing her in the ocean to apparently be devoured by the as-yet-unseen shark. The other he tracks down to the showers, where he films himself bashing her head against the wall. He then drags her to the ocean as night falls, before stabbing her and throwing her in for the shark as well.

Enough finally being enough, Miki drops the camera and runs down the beach. At the end of the jetty, Kenji asks Mai to close her eyes. When she agrees, he pulls out his knife and rubs it along her stomach as a CGI dorsal fin approaches their position, Kenji takes his sweet time rubbing the knife all over Mai, who somehow never realizes it's a knife until he finally cuts her. Miki then comes jiggling to the attempted rescue, but she is out of breath when she arrives and Kenji is able to taunt her with her wounded friend.

Until Miki summons the energy to rush down the jetty and easily push Kenji into the water. Which he totally lets happen, I might add, by standing around like a dumbass. Miki and Mai silently watch the now-still water, and then turn to flee--only to see their escape is cut off by the older man in a Hawaiian shirt, apparently the hotel manager, who is tossing a tape in his hands. He puts it into a camcorder and advances on them as a soaking wet Kenji emerges from the ocean in a plainly foul mood. A metal song picks up as he advances on Miki and Mai, who are just staring in...vague disinterest? Fear? Hope that the movie is almost over?

And then...oh boy.

Something rises out of the water behind Kenji. He turns and stares in horror as a shadow falls over him. Mai reacts by cocking one eyebrow in disbelief, before the shadow falls on her and her skepticism turns to fear and she turns to run. Miki's face doesn't really register anything as she sizes up the shadow looming over her before turning and running, And then we see an awful CGI shark head the size of Godzilla rising over the jetty as the girls flee but the guys stand and stare.

"Run run run run run away / Psycho Shark / Qu'est-ce que c'est / fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far shittier"
Yeah. Anyway, Mai falls and Miki turns to call for her, only to hear a loud splash. She turns to look at...

...for the love of... the creep with the camera gleefully records, the giant shark gracefully swoops down from the sky and swallows Miki up in its jaws. Then the camera skitters across the rocks before being splashed with a fountain of blood.

You know, at first I was skeptical of a gritty reboot of Free Willy, but...
So. That happened.

Rather than mercifully end there, we watch as a hermit crab crawls by the camera. The camera randomly switches on to show Mai and Miki addressing it, talking about how they're going to swim and make so many memories. Then it switches back off and a person picks it up. And we're back to the dark hotel room from the prologue as the creepy girl watches the footage of Miki bouncing up and down in the surf one more time, and we close on static. The Goddamn End.

I honestly don't know what anyone was thinking in the production of this movie, Well, okay, I do. For starters, Nomani Takizawa is what's known as a "gravure idol" in Japan, what we here might simply call a swimsuit model. As with many gravure idols that I've encountered, Takizawa is incredibly busty, and someone wanted an excuse to film her running up and down a beach in a skimpy bikini.

That much I understand, but there is already a market for DVDs that are basically nothing but that in Japan. So I have no idea why someone decided they needed to make a narrative film around it, much less...whatever the hell this movie is.

For one thing, both its titles are selling something it doesn't really deliver on until the very end of the movie. Jaws in Japan or Psycho Shark, either way you're promised a shark and you won't be getting one until the movie is almost finished. Hell, the shark is only briefly alluded to by the hotel manager in the figurine bit and in Miki's dream sequence. You could cut the shark out entirely and it would do nothing but deprive the film of a totally bonkers climax.

It's hard to say that there's even more of a focus on the "Psycho" part of the US title, because the build-up to that reveal is bungled so terribly. Maybe the filmmakers thought random shots of violence would build tension, but when the rest of your film is just your main characters watching someone else's vacation footage when they're not making their own--the only tension being built is the viewer wondering when the film is going to get on with it.

As for the characters, well, it's kind of impossible not to sympathize with Miki--even beyond the fact that years of Godzilla watching have automatically endeared me to anyone named Miki. She's cute, she seems genuinely nice, and she clearly is not enjoying the way her so-called friend is treating her on their vacation but still cares enough about Mai to try and save her life. It would almost be tragic that her compassion ends up getting her killed if her death wasn't too cartoonish to take seriously.

However, the fact that we sort of care about Miki is the closest the film comes to making its characters engaging. It's not the actors' fault, really. Considering most of them are models and not actors, none of the women characters deliver bad performances. The trouble is that for most of the film they're basically just being asked to frolic on the beach, so it doesn't matter how well they do it: I don't care about watching it.

I honestly can't imagine that even in Japan people are so desperate to see footage of attractive women in bikinis that they'll watch this. Maybe before the internet made far more graphic stuff available, this would be the sort of thing a desperate horny teenager might rent to appeal to their lust. However, in 2009 this film was roughly 15 years too late to effectively serve that purpose. And if you read my description of the "plot" above, you can see that that is exactly what the film's purpose was intended to be.

Ultimately, Miki has the right idea. If you feel the need to actually watch this movie, just fast forward through the boring bits. You can probably watch the movie in about 5 minutes that way and you'll be a lot happier.

One last shot of Nonami Takizawa to save you the trouble of watching this

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