Written by Tron Delapp
I’m a big fan of Asian Cinema. Horror, action, suspense-thriller, Giant Monster, totally gonzo… if it comes from Asia and looks even halfway interesting I try to check it out. As always with film festivals, no matter how well you plan things out, something slips through the cracks. This year’s Fantastic Fest I missed Shimauma, one of the only Asian films I couldn’t manage to work in to my schedule but was able to catch up with it just after the fest. Not that I had much to go on other than it was based on a very popular Manga, had nothing but the briefest of teaser trailers and was supposed to be chock-full of torture that read like a resume of how to get a film into Fantastic Fest. ‘Beyond the Pale,’ would be a way to describe Shimauma and I’m proud to say, up front in my introduction, that all these things are true. Kids like the Manga, there’s still no trailer and Holy Cow there’s a bunch of torture in this film. Lots. Like you could make a few Saw films with the amounts of torture crammed into it’s almost 2 hour run time (1:43). Crutch and hammer beatings, blowtorching, removal of fingers and toes, teeth knocked out, people getting set on fire and why not? As a couple of the characters are fond of saying, “ Beating men and raping women is so cliché. You can’t keep dong that forever.” If that’s not the poster’s tag line, they blew an opportunity. Now, I’m no prude or Nancy; I adore the work of Shinya Tsukamoto, Takashi Miike and Sion Sono, among others, so I’ve seen some shit on film, believe me, but here it is, days after I viewed Shimauma and I still cannot tell you if I recommend it. I can, however, tell you what it’s about.
Shimauma is about some petty thugs, led by Tatsuo, who run a marriage scam where they pretend to set a mark up with a woman who is really one of the gang and then bust in all indignant and proceed to extort the mark for everything he has. Normally you’d think this works great but the kids happen to try it on a Yakuza who’s job is to recruit girls for porno films. Tatsuo decides to beat up and torture the Yakuza while they film it but for some reason leave the Yakuza alive. This is known by most right-thinking people as a ‘Big Mistake’ and it turns out to be. See, there’s a group known as Collectors who exist solely to “remove society’s trash.” They get revenge for people who’ve been wronged and not limited to murder – they try to make a statement with their solutions, such as hiring several tattooists to tattoo the face of a J-Pop idol who also happened to be a rapist. Anyhow, Tatsuo and his crew are turned in by the Yakuza and Tatsuo and his girl are caught and tortured by the Collectors. The lead Collector, Mr. Akasada, is a young punk sort of like the Joker that gets aroused by the massive violence and he takes a shine to Tatsuo, whom he offers an out: kill the Yakuza and become a Collector or get tortured to death, which Tatsuo does with aplomb. This basically drafts him into the Collectors, gets him a first-rate hospital stay to heal the torture to which he’s already been subjected and endows him with the nickname Dora. See, Akasada was a nerdy rich kid picked on in school by everyone but was saved from suicide by Dora (who may have actually been Tatsuo but they’re very unclear about this. Akasada identifies with him as Dora so whatever), a cool upper-classman who made it seem like Akasada was his friend and stopped the beatings and torment… until Akasada found out he was the leader of the kids who made his life a living hell. Akasada thanks him for that experience as it finally ‘showed [him] his true face.’
Anyway, Tatsuo/Dora is introduced to Shimauma, who runs the whole Collection Agency and Shimauma takes a liking to him, causing additional tension with Akasada, who feels surpassed by Dora anyhow. Shimauma keeps testing Dora’s loyalty; for instance, he sends Tatsuo after his old marriage-scam girl who was secretly working with the Yakuza they set up, causing a conflict within Tatsuo who is beginning to enjoy his work. Tatsuo/Dora is crafty and ambitious, quickly rebuilding a string and making plans to take over Shimauma’s operation. To do so he recruits Yoshida, resident Collector doctor/technician, to his new crew. Yoshida is in love with his married neighbor so Tatsuo/Dora decides to collect on her husband, a cop who may have stolen money to finance his sick son’s operation. He begins by sewing the seeds of dissent to the neighbor’s wife, playing up her unhappiness and his purported infidelity, among other things, This culminates in Dora drugging the wife and allowing fat, slovenly Yoshida have his way with her as the husband, Amikawa, is forced to watch. Instead of strengthening his string, this begins Dora’s downfall as Amikawa is pretty pissed about the whole incident. He is drawn in by Akasada, who is tired of taking Tatsuo/Dora’s shit and turned loose on Dora in a tea house. After delivering a receipt beating, Amikawa decides to start over, rebuild his life and return to the Force as he never stole the money for his kid’s operation. As he comes to this decision his wife commits suicide over the shame brought to her by Tatsuo/Dora. This causes Akasada to lose it completely and sets up the inevitable Tatsuo/Akasada/Amikawa three-way-dance.
There was another film that played this year’s Fantastic Fest called Asura: City of Madness. Asura was just as dark as Shimauma but the story was way more engrossing. Shimauma primarily relies on shocking violence, as does Asura, but in this case seems like extreme torture for torture’s sake, like a series of incidents where they have to collect strung together haphazardly but it may be due to the limitations of the Manga from which it was adapted. It also explains the non-resolution of the ending as both the film and the comic would rely on the cliff-hanger approach to continue the next episode. If that is correct, then Shimauma is probably a very faithful adaptation of the source material in the sense that it gives one that feeling without having read the prior material it was based on but if not correct than the movie just abruptly ends with no real resolution and that’s that. It’s this type of conflict in my head, coupled with the lack of overall story and the idea that the movie is named Shimauma but the character is only seen for like 10 minutes of screen time and doesn’t factor in as anything more than a cause of a few events that make me unsure if I can recommend Shimauma but I didn’t hate the film. It just doesn’t go anywhere. I guess if you’re into torture and extreme violence it’s worth a view – heck, I watched it and would have given it a ‘5’ in fan voting – or if you’re a fan of the Manga totally go for it. It’s not terrible. It’s just not all that special either.