Given its lack of subtext, propensity for garishly realistic violence and surrealist imagery, director Takashi Hirose manages to offer up a distinctly Japanese exploitation film with a strong message behind it. A brutal and unflinching look at serial killers in the guise of a romance film, this new effort from Hirose is now screening at
Japan Film Fest Hamburg

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Following a rampage of extreme prejudice, a savage killer (Butch) targets women as he tries to find a compatible one to engage his fantasies of torture and murder in. With the body count mounting and no one being able to stop him, he grows bolder and goes to more extreme measures to carry out his rampage, eventually catching the eye of a female serial killer (Ayano) who’s just as sadistic as he is, forcing them into a deadly and dangerous showdown.

Overall, ‘Brutal’ is an exceptionally enjoyable piece of exploitation sleaze. This is one of the strongest aspects of the film and is given to us immediately at the outset, which is the utterly brutal and challenging murder scene. The film opens with the killer targeting several victims and graphically torturing them in wholly demented fashion, as a rant about his intentions goes unheeded. Its unflinching mentality makes for a truly immersive experience the first thing you see in a film, and to see how he carries out his work cleaning up after himself in the bloodstained aftermath immediately afterwards, tells a lot about his psychotic nature. His second showcase, taking out the two girls in their apartment, is even more savage and vicious as he engages in even more extreme and graphic fashion with the way he beats them around, providing the film’s unquestioned graphic highlight.

That brutality is carried over and rightly topped by us following the woman around. Arguably going for a more brutal approach with her frenzied and relentless stabbing that’s generally targeted at their private regions, the montage that opens her story offers us an even stronger glance at what to expect here. Despite initially appearing as opposites in their individual approaches to being a serial killer, the focus on both disparate people coming together is the point here. The final confrontation that occurs, a full-on hard-hitting brawl with each other smashing objects, pummeling and cutting or stabbing the other, is an exceptionally tough and brutal sequence to get through as they lay into each other with a rawness that’s incredibly vicious and realistic, long before it unveils the savage twist for their physical beings.

However, what really sells the film is the unique and decidedly unconventional approach this takes to providing a love story within the confines of a genre story, courtesy of writer/director Hirose. The sense of identity they both share, being of the opposite sex but clearly of the same mindset, the film provides the idea of two interconnected parts that should come together to make a whole with their broken psychological states generating a perverse setup for this storyline. The ending they share together is a macabre twist to the usual romance film, and with all the blood and viscera spilled throughout beforehand, there’s a rather intriguing and wholly unique spin that’s fun to see play out. This is all truly fun if not enough to overcome its minor flaws.

The film’s biggest issue is the fact that there’s just so little info that it simply feels short. While the idea is surprisingly effective in how it’s realized, the lack of depth into each individual manages to somewhat undo the idea that each person is mentally deranged. There’s something to be said for how two individuals come together, but the way it’s handled just comes off as a sloppy mechanism. As well as some questionable filmmaking tactics designed to get a misguided attempt at nostalgia that’s just distracting, there’s not much else really wrong here.

Despite a few minor flaws overall, ‘Brutal’ is an intriguing and wholly unique horror-film version of a romance story that’s still exceptionally graphic and brutal. Give this a go if you’re at all interested in this type of setup or looking for something extreme to come out that’s rather outside the usual channels, while those who aren’t into that should heed caution.

This review was originally published on Don’s World of Horror and Exploitation and is gratefully reprinted with their cooperation.