BLACK RAT (Kuronezumi) is a 2010 Japanese horror film written by Futoshi Fujita—whose only other writing credit is for a film titled KILL (2008)—and directed by Kenta Fukasaku, son of legendary director Kinji Fukasaku, known for such films as BATTLE ROYALE (2000), THE GREEN SLIME (1968), and the Japanese sequences of TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970) (after the studio fired Akira Kurosawa for going way over budget). As a matter of fact, Kenta worked as an assistant to his father on BATTLE ROYALE and finished directing the sequel BATTLE ROYALE II (2003) after Kinji’s death.
Six high school friends each receive a text message telling them to meet in a classroom at their school at midnight. The message comes from Asuka, who committed suicide a few months earlier. Four of the teens arrive on time where they are greeted by a girl in a rat mask—the big kind that team mascots would wear. The masked girl takes attendance and tells the teens there will be “tests” that they must pass in order to gain her forgiveness. She communicates with them through the use of flash cards. Upon challenging her, the kids are presented with the bloody body of one of the friends who didn’t arrive to the meeting place on time. He clearly was beaten to death. “Rat Girl” then attacks the four kids in the classroom, sending them all scattering throughout the dark building.
The rat girl catches up to one of the boys outside and tells him his test will be to stop her from scoring on a penalty kick on the soccer field. The boy fails to stop the goal and is put out of his misery, to put it mildly. One of the girls—a brainiac type—is strapped into a chair wired for electricity. Her test is to score at least one hundred points in karaoke….which she fails to do. As another of the friends arrives late to the party, the remaining boy and girl—a tough guy and his Lolita-styling girlfriend—face off in a dark hallway against “Rat Girl.”
The chronology of the film gets a bit skewered after a bit. There are a myriad of flashback scenes showing how mean the teens were to Asuka. Asuka had an idea for the school’s year-end festival. She wants them all to do a variation on a dance they all learned as children that tells the story of seven little black rats who were friends (thus the reason for the mask). Each one of the teens, we discover, is supposed to represent one of the little rats. This is also why the girl is wearing the rat mask….to remind the friends of what they did to Asuka. There are other scenes where the teens were supposed to meet to rehearse the dance but were goofing off, instead. Asuka manages to smile and stay positive through all of the crap she gets from her supposed friends….though why they’re still her friends is anyone’s guess. There are a few interesting twists and we do eventually discover who the perpetrator behind the mask really is, although as with all good Asian horror, the identity of this person (or persons) is still a bit vague.
One thing that drew me to BLACK RAT is the fact that it is a slasher film…a genre sorely lacking in Asian cinema. The best example of Asian slasher flicks is probably BLOODY REUNION (2006, South Korea), whose original title is TO SIR WITH LOVE, which makes no sense, but I digress. BLOODY REUNION, directed by Lim Dae-wung, is a very good movie with some intense torture and death scenes, as well as some psychological terror. It’s better than a lot of American slasher films. BLACK RAT, on the other hand, tries to be a really good slasher flick—and it succeeds in some ways—but for the most part it falls short.
The film does a good job of insinuating violence without showing it, particularly with the death on the soccer field and the electrocution after the karaoke failure. The focus here is on the psychological aspects of the horror. What makes it effective is the viewer’s imagination making the deaths more gruesome than anything that could be shown on-screen, so it makes your heart race a little faster in anticipation of further horror. Where BLACK RAT fails to deliver are two particular fight scenes that don’t ring true to me and are pretty much just filler—although one leads to a decent beating where again, the final kill blow is off-screen.
The story ultimately falls flat, as well. The film begins with Asuka’s suicide—a jump off the top of the school building—but nothing in the story that follows convinces me that these teens should or could be held responsible for her death. Nothing they did could even be construed as bullying. Yes, they were cruel, at times, but nothing to the degree that would convince me this chick was suicidal. And there is nothing else to make me believe that this girl had (or thought she had) reasons to kill herself. There is virtually no character development. Am I supposed to feel empathy for Asuka and rally behind her, or whoever the rat girl is, in the quest for vengeance? Am I supposed to feel sorry for the teens who are the objects of misplaced vengeance? I don’t know because I’m never really given a chance to learn who these kids are.
On the other hand, I appreciated the fast pace of the film (minus the flashbacks). The blood begins to flow very early on and the kills themselves are well-done. The rat mask, which is mangled and bloody (Asuka wore it when she jumped) is quite creepy. The only SFX issue I had was a scene where a motorbike explodes. It was a bad CGI job that was completely unbelievable in how it translated to film.
Comparatively speaking, BLOODY REUNION gives a better and more original story effectively mixing slasher and psychological horror, and the characters are more fleshed out. There’s also the subtext of mental illness and obsession that BLACK RAT doesn’t have. BLACK RAT is not an original story and is full of clichés, which is fine, but it becomes so convoluted that whatever I found interesting can get lost. I admit I’m a bit schizophrenic with BLACK RAT. It’s not a film I would recommend to any hardcore slasher fan, but I still found it fascinating. Even after everything I found wrong with it, I still don’t feel as though I wasted my time—and it’s a short 75 minutes.
© Copyright 2013 by Colleen Wanglund