I’m not sure why I chose Death Tube: Broadcast Murder Show (aka Satsujin Douga Site, 2010) to review for The Moon is a Dead World's 15 for October series ; I must be a masochist. Japanese horror movies can be pretty taxing on your stomach as well as your critical nerve.
Surprisingly, this one wasn’t all that stomach-churning, and the only nerve-racking thing, really, is the close to two hour runtime. Trimming is called for. It took me two tries before I could finish watching it. And I fast-forwarded to sprint toward the end because director Yoshei Fukuda takes his ever-loving time to tell his story. There’s a leisurely television style pacing here, although you wouldn’t get many sponsors wanting to sell their products through this one. Gore’s over the top when it does appear, but otherwise there’s not much gore here. Go watch Tokyo Gore Police if you’re looking for gooey, chewy mincemeat special effects smorgasbord.
That aside, there’s something akin to a bitter aftertaste you come away with after watching 8 people (actually 7, since one gets killed early, to get things off to a fast start) working hard together at staying alive by solving ridiculous puzzles or silly games. You only see people working together in zombie movies (at least early on), Saw movies, and Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (which didn't help much there, either).
Fans know that camaraderie in horror movies is not used as often as it should be in the dramatic scripting department; usually it’s more like everybody for himself, which easily bringsto mind the shooting fish in a barrel metaphor since that’s what happens; you get to watch each victim killed in unpleasant ways, one by one, more expediently because they don’t stick together.
That’s the modus operandi here, too, although one smart guy implores the group to cooperate so they can ALL stay alive and complete the lethal games by cooperation (hula hoop twirling, Rubik cube-like scrambling, nail driven under fingernail—okay, I admit that one hurt just watching it), but no one listens; or maybe listens with one ear while the other is busy not listening.
It's not clear if cooperation and teamwork will keep anyone alive, however, there’s a banner or two that hints at it—a lesson to be learned, perhaps?—but then the evil mastermind behind this SEO-driven Death Tube website tells them--in a really annoying game show host sort of voice--only one survivor is allowed. But even that’s iffy because if anyone survives, the show would be hard pressed to go on. There are laws against this sort of thing, you know. Sure, they'll allow Miley Cyrus to twerk and jerk a wrecking ball, but damned if they'd cancel the killing on Death Tube because somebody complained it was real.
Hosting this Wheel of Unfortunate game show is an evil mastermind, some anonymous person dressed in a yellow kawaii bear costume; cute, cuddly, and packing heat. His Papa Bear persona has a Mama Bear to assist and they goof around while others similarly dressed, outside the games, are making sure Death Tube’s ratings aren’t impeded by police seizures or astute viewer discretion.
Pretty soon you will begin to question why no one's going for Papa Bear. It's 7 against his one gun when a few times there's clearly a go-for-it moment; but no one goes for it. You also start to wonder why no one watching this outrageous show on the Internet is Googling this website to find out more about it or protest how vile it is, or sharing YouTube best moments exposing it for what it is. Is DeathTube telling us we're that stupid now because of the incessant crap we've come to love on the Internet?
You may come to realize that either everyone invovled here is either very bad at showing motivations, or very good at playing their roles as absurdist theatrics--and why aren't you seeing that? Or maybe there's some nihilistic or existentialistic theme being explored by the director ?
I simply couldn't tell. Maybe it's a Japanese thing?
Instead we see the usual disfunctional relationships all around and the typical smart, dumb-ass, and screaming-mimi characters alternating between winning the game and questioning their participation in it, ignoring all common sense or humanity in the process, and back to winning focus on winning the game and screwing everyone else. Costumed death-pranking is all the rage these days. You've got those animal-headed guys in You're Next and The Strangers, those creepy masked assailants in The Purge, and no way can you ever forget those horn-masked guys with aprons in Hostel.
Is Death Tube run by a cult like the thuggees in The Stranglers of Bombay? Are avid YouTube or Apple viewers acting like a cult? Is all this online ad hoc choppy video making us loopy and socially outcast while thinking we really belong?
Just what is Fukuda implying here? Or is he implying anything? Maybe the budget's a factor, or his upbringing, or he's just experimenting with the lighting and an uncle had this great warehouse space free for a weekend, so why not shoot a quickie?
Or are the purpetrators of Death Tube a bunch of bored kids out for a thrill like in Them (aka Ils? Or maybe Papa and Mama Bear are teaching their website viewers a punitive lesson no one lives to learn from like the ones taught in X Game and Saw? Or are viewers of this torture-death website being sucked in like those who watched the torture-death website in Feardotcom (2002), perpetuating the madness because they accept it blindly?
One thing is certain: if you dare to watch this movie you may find yourself the next morning in one of those little budget comfort rooms, screaming your brains out for help while thoughtless, cruel, and useless comment threads from viewers to your plight egg you on to death. There's nothing like having trolls, moles, and dweebs giving you their wisdom, observations, and advice when death is inches or seconds away, right? How many times have you gone to the web to find answers only to discover how profoundly stupid some people really are?
If you read the reviews on this one, it’s mentioned that it's a Saw rip-off with little to show for it. Some reviewers even cite Cube and Hostel to draw parallels to all the torture-porn horror dynamics, but generally poo-poo the storyline without much thought. But there’s more going on here and that's what's engrossing. Like those unfathomable pachinko parlors and the wild, alluring, colors and noises of Akihabara, you get sucked in watching the victims play games while being watched by--us?
When done it doesn't gell to a clear message of intent. The best assessment you’ll find is Isugoi’s review by Miguel Douglas, which questions the balance between the predicament the “players” find themselves in and the implications of cultural commentary for it. When Facebook decided to show people getting beheaded again, for real, what did you feel or think?
Or didn't you feel or think about it at all?
Death Tube is so downbeat you feel you should be more concerned with what's happening and who it's happening to, but the direction is emotionless to a fault, not giving us any clues as to which way to feel or think. Maybe that's the point: that all this voyeuristic absurdity leading to futiliity, seen without humor and emotion, is a warning. That we are what we watch, and what we watch is also watching us.
Sort of ruins your day, doesn't it?