Written by: John White on April 9th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1992
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Cast: Makiko Kuno, Yutaka Matsushige, Kanta Ogata, Ren Osugi
DVD released: 25th April 2006
Approximate running time: 96 mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0/5.1
DVD Release: Artsmagic
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $24.95
Akiko is on the way to her first day at work at the Akabone corporation and is stuck in traffic. Her taxi driver talks non stop about a story in the news of a mad sumo wrestler who killed his wife and lover and how the police can’t get him tried because of his insanity. Eventually arriving Akiko meets an officious security guard who is also expecting a new colleague. She meets her new boss Karoume, who is a bully and exposes himself to her, and the rest of his rather dim team. She also meets the whizkid head of Human Resources, Hyodo, who tells her that her department is useless. She notices a new extremely tall security guard and that people are starting to go missing, not least of which is her new boss. Working overtime, Akiko, Hyodo, and her team learn the truth about the new guard the hard way.
Rather unfairly, Kiyoshi Kurosawa is often mentioned alongside Takashi Miike as one of the new breed of Japanese directors. This is unfair because Kurosawa has been making films far longer than Miike, since 1983, and he is a very different kettle of fish to the prolific Miike. Kurosawa started directing Roman Porno films for Nikkatsu and like Seijun Suzuki got blackballed for making his films too hi-falutin. Undaunted, Kurosawa took his unique approach to other genres of B-movies and has in the last 15 years produced some marvellous pieces like Kairo, Serpent’s Path, and Doppelganger. Movies that have cheap origins and little expected of them but films which Kurosawa elevated because of interesting choices and originality in writing.
The Guard from the Underground is basically a bodycount movie set in an office block. This sounds underwhelming because the real quality here is in the writing and the acting. Kurosawa takes his unlikely premise of a mad sumo dispatching office workers and puts great black humour and pathos into the mix.
The Akabone corporation was weird enough before they got their own homicidal security guard. Akiko’s first day as an art expert involves her boss throwing a book at her and saying that art is only “childish paintings”, she is then approached by the rather disinterested Hyodo who tells her that her department, which he set up, is useless and that her boss will go “sooner or later”.
Akiko visits the dark basement of the offices and finds there a shrine to herself and that the new security guard is wearing her earring. The towering presence of Yutaka Matsushige as the guard is genuinely scary and his violence is extremely odd and sadistic – this security guard is putting people into small cupboards and breaking their bodies so they fit! The whole film is very careful to use Yutaka’s silhouette and the suggestion of his presence and this adds to his remorselessness when he goes into overdrive.
Guard from the Underground is excellent witty B-movie territory that deserves better than the tag of genre picture. It is thoroughly good horror. Recommended.
Guard from the Underground has been available on DVD before in Japan. The R2 release does not have English subtitles but to my eye has a better picture than this release. The colours on the R2 seem warmer to me and the Artsmagic disc is lighter and marginally sharper but this is a rather slight difference. They are framed very differently with the R2 looking as if it has come from a full screen print. Overall the Artsmagic picture is quite soft and dark and the quality of source materials for both releases is far from exceptional.
The sound on the Artsmagic disc is far better with 5.1 and stereo alongside a great commentary from Tom Mes.
The extras are simply biographies of the main players.
Unless there is a better print out there, the Artsmagic disc is superior to previous releases given it’s commentary and exceptional sound. The picture is better on the subtitle-less R2 disc but only marginally. This is the way to go.
Artsmagic’s Region 1 DVD