Thursday, September 08, 2016

AOF ’16: Gaijin: Fish Out of Water (short)

According to the Japanese urban legend, the homicidal Kuchisake-onna “Slit-Mouthed Woman” was disfigured and driven mad by her abusive husband. When a ne’er do well Western drifter takes on her morbid appearance, it is due to the bad karma she herself generates. Kuchisake-onna’s surgical mask accessorizing will come in handy as the now ugly Anglo stalks her prospective victims in Anabelle & Huntly Munro’s sinister short film Gaijin: Fish Out of Water (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Action on Film Festival.

She may indeed be scuffling, but the Westerner seems to take perverse pleasure in feasting on offerings left at Buddhist shrines. However, she probably should have been more suspicious of the unrefrigerated fish. After suffering indigestion and fever chills, the woman will wake up in an otherworldly bamboo forest, bearing the ear-to-ear carving of a Slit-Mouth Woman.

The woman quickly learns she has been on the receiving end of a Karma beatdown (although we should note at this point Buddha is also infinite in his compassion, just don’t go out of your way to antagonize him). She will try to cheat fate through a Faustian bargain, but it will be a tall order, given the fact she just isn’t as alluring as she was a few hours ago.

Gaijin is a cool film that mixes archetypal myths (both ancient and contemporary) with a noir-ish visual sensibility and a very-of-the-moment dubstep soundtrack. It has an icily severe aesthetic that is quite compelling, especially since it completely eschews spoken dialogue in favor of occasional comic book-inspired intertitles. Although their narratives are drastically dissimilar, Gaijin would make a stylistically fitting pairing with Sol Friedman’s short Junko’s Shamisen, which puts it in good company.

To its credit, Gaijin feels like it was produced by longtime expats who were comfortable working in Tokyo subways and back alley Shinjuku bars. Frankly, its ironic twist ending would probably be easier to anticipate if the entire film were not so disorienting. Altogether, it is a distinctive short film that will get under viewers’ skin, in a good way. Highly recommended for fans of J-horror and urban legends, Gaijin: Fish Out of Water screens tomorrow (9/9) as part of the 2016 Action on Film Festival, in Monrovia, CA.