Takashi Miike may have gone from anonymity to cult stardom and critical acclaim in the space of a year, but his early works are still very much uncharted waters. Though his 1995 film Shinjuku Triad Society (Shinjuku Kuroshakai - China Mafia Senso) is often credited as being his first film, he has in fact been employed as a director for the Japanese video market since his real debut in 1991 with Topuu! Minipato Tai - Eyecatch Junction. A trawl through the director's early filmography can therefore unearth quite a few surprises. One of those surprises is this cheap and trashy exploitation wrestling movie.
Though it certainly doesn't share the factual approach of Gaea Girls (Kim Longinotto and Jano Williams, 2000), the recent documentary on the Japanese female wrestling phenomenon, Miike's fourth film certainly illustrates the popularity of puroresu, as it's known locally. The simple fact that quick cheapies like these are made to cash in on the subject, and that despite their less than respectable nature they can feature actual stars of the "square circle" shows just how the big the market for related products is in Japan.
The Human Murder Weapon of the title is a young fighter nicknamed - believe it or not - Karate Kid, who is forced at gunpoint by a seedy, scarfaced promoter and his two gay henchmen to compete in bloody underground fights, battling an assortment of oversized, muscle-bound foreigners for the viewing pleasure of a mainly non-Japanese crowd.
To make sure the young hero doesn't try anything foolish, the promoter also kidnaps his girlfriend and puts her in the ring against two rather hulking ladies, who proceed to beat her senseless, strip her bare and - in a true Miike moment - stick a thumb up her arse as she's lying bleeding and helpless on the canvas. In the finale a tag match involving another of the hero's girlfriends turns into a battle royale in which the girl's hairpiece-wearing karate teacher/yakuza boss suddenly jumps into the ring from out of nowhere to help Karate Kid beat the living crap out of every single gaijin fighter.
Yes it's trashy, but then professional wrestling is hardly highbrow entertainment in its own right. Criticising A Human Murder Weapon for being trashy and vulgar is somewhat beside the point. No filmmaker is going to waste time and money making a respectable multi-million dollar movie about sweaty men in tights pretending to hurt each other and in that respect the director can even be commanded for the approach he chose for the film.
However this early effort is a far cry from the Miike films that have lately taken the world by storm. A Human Murder Weapon suffers from a ridiculously low budget, which has not only forced the director to shoot on video but also gave the production designer very little to work with. Sets are practically non-existent, consisting of only a few tables, chairs and assorted props. A black, underlit background is supposed to hide the lack of production value but only serves to emphasise it. This is most apparent in the fight scenes, which are witnessed by a grand total of eight people rather than the arena full of spectators suggested by the soundtrack. They too are kept in the dark, but their minimal number is pretty obvious all the same.
A Human Murder Weapon does work though. It just takes a night on the couch with a group of friends and a few six-packs to fully enjoy it. Which, the recent critical acclaim for its director aside, is after all what straight-to-video action movies are made for.