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Friday, March 12, 2004

STACY

The other day I mentioned that the manga creator Shungicu Uchida had acted in the film Stacy, among others. This mention prompted me to watch the film again, and I can definitely say that it is one of the most bizarre films I've ever seen.

The premise of the film, directed by Naoyuki Tomomatsu and based upon a novel by Kenji Otsuki, is that all over the world 15 to 17-year-old girls are dying and returning to life as cannibalistic zombies, known as "Stacies" for some reason. Shortly before dying, the girls enter a state of "Near Death Happiness" in which they joyfully accept everything, including their imminent deaths. The only way to destroy a "Stacy" is to chop it into little pieces (since larger pieces remain "alive"), a process known as "repeat killing." Families are encouraged to repeat kill their own daughters once they've become Stacies, but for those who don't have the guts, or the opportunity, to do so, there is an official agency known as the "Romero Repeat Kill Troops." (There are a lot of in-jokes for zombie aficianados in the film.) Much of the film's plot revolves around two poor schlubs who join the RRK. One of them is assigned to guard a mad-scientist type doctor (played by Yasutaka Tsutsui, whom Patrick Macias describes in the liner notes as "the father of Japanese metafiction," in a ludicrously over-the-top performance) who performs grisly experiments on captured Stacies, as well as to dispose of the "waste" tissue, which is sometimes still twitching. The other, only marginally more fortunate, is requisitioned by their squad's female captain (Shungicu Uchida) to occupy her bed. (As he exits with the captain, one of the senior troopers remarks: "I hope he doesn't commit suicide like the last one.") Eventually, the first one (I think) goes insane and releases the captured Stacies. There's also a competing, illegal, "repeat kill" squad, made up of three teenage girls who are trying to make enough money to pay the pop star they idolize to "repeat kill" them once they become Stacies. In the climax of the movie's action (which is not the same as the climax of the movie as a whole), the two competing squads and the released Stacies all come together.

Intercut with the action scenes, and seemingly unconnected to them, is the story of Shibukawa (Toshinori Omi, whose understated performance is a linchpin of the movie), who meets and falls in love with Eiko (Natsuki Kato), a girl in a state of "Near Death Happiness," who asks him to promise to repeat kill her.

So far so good; and Tomomatsu milks this scenario for its full share of gruesome effects and black comedy. (We see a commercial for a chainsaw called the "Bruce Campbell Right Hand 2," pitched by a woman wearing a bunny suit.) But it's what happens after the climactic battle between the two repeat kill squads, in the film's final twenty or so minutes (chapters 13 and after on the DVD), that it gets really weird. I won't try to describe what happens in these scenes. I'll just say that despite all the gore, the film winds up being unexpectedly moving, even poetic, while offering a bizarre vision of salvation via teenage girls. There's also a subtextual implication that the girls are dying because they're too good for the world.

I originally planned to begin this post by saying that the film was an extreme example of the idolization/fetishization of the adolescent girl visible in so much of Japanese popular culture. Having finally read Macias's liner notes (my video rental store doesn't distribute liner notes with rentals), I realize that he had anticipated me with this angle, and has some very interesting things to say about it. He also reports that the Tomomatsu, the director, had had an affair with a high school-age porn actress, and stalked her extensively after they broke up.

Stacy is the only zombie film I've seen, but judging from the reviews I've read on the web, it's extremely gory even compared to other zombie films, and I can believe it. None of the gore, however, is as disturbing as a scene in which Eiko encounters a burnt-out Romero squad and smilingly tells them that the girls all love them and they shouldn't feel bad, while one by one they burst into tears.

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