Dragon Head (2003)

Starring Satoshi Tsumabuki, Sayaka Kanda, Takayuki Yamada

Directed by Joji Iida

I ask you, what’s worse than getting in a train wreck and being trapped in a caved in tunnel? Answer: Having a psychopathic fellow student trapped in there with you. That’s how the film happily starts off, and doesn’t let up on the despair for a second.

On a field trip to Kyoto, the train the students are on crashes horribly while in a tunnel, brutally killing all but three students, and horribly wounding the teacher. Teach doesn’t suffer for long however, as Nobuo (Takayuki Yamada), a bullied student, beats him to death with a bamboo sword as retribution for him not intervening when he was getting pushed around. Getting the taste for violence, Nobuo builds a little den for himself among the corpses, and begins terrorizing the other two survivorsTeru and Ako (Satoshi Tsumabuki and Sayaka, respectively).

Teru and Ako eventually escape the tunnel through a collapsed pipe, but find themselves in a lifeless wasteland, where food and water are scarce, and everything is covered in snowy white ash from some unknown catastrophe. The two students begin looking for other survivors, but soon run afoul of crazed, homicidal townsfolk who seem to think that mass suicide is the only recourse…whether Teru and Ako like it or not.

After narrowly avoiding decapitation at the hands of the loonies, T&A find themselves in an uneasy partnership with two unstable soldiers and a pair of lobotomized twins who are unable to feel fear, pain or remorse (even while watching their own mama die from a gut shot). Aftershocks of the mysterious cataclysm kill off the soldiers and one of the twins (don’t worry, the surviving twin is indifferent about the whole affair). The remaining trio head to Tokyo, as a radio broadcast informs them that there is food there…a la 28 Days Later. The thing is, the food being distributed was designed to have the same effect as the twins’ lobotomies! The survivors of the human race now no longer care if they are crushed by falling rocks, or lit on fire. Let the good times roll.

Director Joji Iida (Ring 2: Spiral, Battle Heater: Kotatsu) weaves a seriously bleak tale, with great cinematography, excellent set design, and unsettling imagery. Managing to convey the gritty realism of low budget indie films, but still providing bigger budget special effects, Dragon Head entertains completely from start to finish. Whether the film is trying to illustrate the necessity or the futility of optimism is ultimately left up to the viewer, but the constant thematic assertion to just “give up” makes for a particularly thought provoking and unsettling film. I suggest that when watching this film, you have Love Actually on emergency stand-by, to suppress any suicidal tendencies.

3 out of 5

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