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Philosophy of a Knife (2008)

poaksmall - Philosophy of a Knife (2008)Reviwed by Scott A. Johnson

Starring Yukari Fujimoto, Yumiko Fujiwara, Svyatoslav Illiyasov

Directed by Andrey Iskanov


In a broad, general sense, there are two types of films: Those meant to inform, called “documentaries,” and those meant to entertain, which, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll call “movies.” You know the drill: both types have their good and bad, the exciting and the boring, the entertaining and the pretentious. What happens sometimes is some well-meaning, film-school “artist” tries to meld the two together into something both informative and entertaining. More often than not, the auteur fails. Seldom, however, do they fail so miserably as in Philosopy of a Knife.

Operating under the pretense of telling about a World War II era Japanese unit who tortured prisoners and carried out experiments that would make Jigsaw cringe, it begins on an interesting enough note with a few pieces of file footage spliced together with an interview of a Russian man who lived nearby during the time. Shortly after (let’s say thirty minutes into the movie), viewers begin to realize what this movie really is: Pretentious, mean-spirited, and full of enough garbage to make this just a bad movie. Not bad in a good way, either, just bad.

So let’s start at the beginning, shall we? The opening scene is an art-school noir rendition of an asexual Japanese officer hiking through the snow. Many close-ups, many pensive looks, many … close-ups of pensive looks. It turns out he’s walking about with a prisoner so he can cut his head off. It takes them five minutes of film time to find a suitable place, during which time the viewer is slowly slipping into a coma. Then comes the opening credits. Damn you, Seven, for your hip opening credit scene that made every film-school dandy feel the need to be “edgy.” After the longest opening credits in film history (I think, though they could have just seemed that long), we get a hard-to-understand narrative telling us a great deal of useless information, followed by a little bit about the fabled Japanese unit. That’s as good as it gets. Get this, we’re fifteen minutes into this pile of steaming excrement and all we’ve had is pensive soldier, bad credits, and mumbly-accented narrative.

To begin with, all the re-enactments are poorly acted, poorly executed, and serve no real purpose. Sure, they’re designed to show the viewer what MAY have gone on inside the dreaded compound, but they come across as just intending to shock. Among my favorite scenes intended to make your skin crawl are the two babies who are sewn together, the forced C-section delivery of a stillborn baby, and the ten-minute scene in which a Japanese nurse blythly twangs on a Jews-Harp (you know, one of those weird little things Snoopy played? Nevermind…) while some joker in the background hacks apart bodies with a hatchet. Oh yes, there are close-ups a-plenty of fake heads being smashed, fake skin being cut, and Monty-Python-esque blood being sprayed liberally about, but the effects are about as believable as those you’d get from a Halloween prop-shop. If the production didn’t take itself so damned seriously, it might be laughable. As it stands, the movie is uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons.

Moving on, the movie features many long and rambling interviews with a Russian doctor who lived near the compound in his youth. NEAR the compound. He never saw inside, never witnessed the atrocities, but he did go picking mushrooms by it and was warned away. Combine his commentary with the voice-over of a Japanese nurse who fears for her soul for all the crimes committed against the victims (notice, she never prays for the victims, only for herself), and we have two very annoying, and mostly unlikable, pieces to this movie.

Then there’s the whole subject of realism. It’s a documentary, supposedly, right? First, concentration camp prisoners usually don’t look like film-school students. Typically, they look emaciated, mistreated, malnourished, or at least dirty. They don’t look like girls you’d see on Amateur Auditions #12. Concentration camp victims, and I could be wrong about this but I don’t think I am, didn’t really have time to trim their pubes into landing strips. In addition to the overly hygienic actresses, the special effects are just bad. Skin being torn away, limbs being hacked off and obviously faked torsos being cut open are only part of the fun to be had in this affront to film, and none of it looks real. Most of it, in fact, looks laughably bad.

Running at two hours would be bad enough, but wait, there’s more! There’s a SECOND DVD, which means the whole thing clocks in at four hours of mind-assaulting crap. Most documentaries, even when well done, can’t hold an audience’s attention for more than an hour. This one just degenerates into the director’s own masturbatory decent into seeing just how much depraved shit he can get his actresses to do, or how much he thinks the audience will watch. Witness, if you must, the simulated rape scene between a cute concentration-camp prisoner (?!?!) and a young emo syphilis sufferer. Not enough? There’s the painfully fake scene of another young and cute prisoner getting her teeth ripped out. Oh, still doesn’t push the envelope enough? How bout the big one, the young actress who, along with closeups of her nether-naughty-bits, gets a huge cockroach inserted in her coochie! Nope, not kidding, and somehow I bet she believes it was “art.” Still, that pales in comparison to the greatest insult the director heaped on us, the “love story” between the Japanese guard and the (third) young and cute prisoner.

As a reviewer, one tries to find a few positive things to say about each film. Congratulations are in order for Philosophy of a Knife in that it succeeded in being the crappiest pile of masturbatory, art-house wannabe, pedantic and mean-spirited shit I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching. We all know that war happens, and there are no angels in war. This film’s purpose, however, seems to have been to paint the Japanese as monsters, to foster still more anger and hatred for things that happened more than six decades ago. All it succeeds in doing, however, is making the audience feel cheated out of four hours of their lives.

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0 out of 5

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Written by Scott A. Johnson

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