Deputy Culture Editor – Film & TV
The beautiful Killing (Zan) met with positive reactions at the 2018 Venice Film Festival and is now featuring at the Glasgow Film Festival 2019 lineup. Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer) has built up a reputation in the niche milieux of Japanese sci-fi and horror and no one expected a traditional samurai film to come out of Killing (Zan). The rather short (80-minute running time) period piece packs a punch. It follows the early steps of Mokunoshin Tsuzuki, a young ronin hosted in a farming community where he helps in the field and offers his swordsman’s skills for the protection of the farmers. He is particularly friendly with young Ichisuke, who he uses as a training partner, nurturing dangerous thoughts of adventure in the young boy. Tsukamoto also plants the seeds of a romance between Tsuzuki and Yu, Ichisuke’s sister. Troubles arise when Tsuzuki catches the eye of a travelling samurai intending on raising a group of fighters to travel to Edo and Kyoto to serve the Shogun. What could be the beginning of an epic tale of samurai honourable fighting quickly turns into a psychological meltdown for golden boy Tsuzuki.
Killing (Zan) gives samurai films fans just enough to feast on. It is sprinkled with a few perfectly choreographed fighting scenes, their gorey details and grand statements on the meaning of life and honour. Chopped arms and dangling bowels are not a fundamentally new sight in samurai films but there is true grace in the plastic qualities of Killing’s mise-en-scene and editing. The film’s aesthetics are flawless and justify a watch on their own. Yet, the true strength of Killing is in the depicted subjectivity of Tsuzuki. We are offered glimpses of his psyche through intimate exchanges with Yu and feverish dream sequences remarkable by their physicality. Both actors stretch and contort their bodies in palpable and contagious nervousness; their movements form a magnetic however odd spectacle. We delve deeper into the mind of tortured Tsuzuki as he feels responsible for the tragedy unfolding around him. While bodies accumulate around him, Tsuzuki does not find it so easy to deal with the horror as samurai film fans have been accustomed to. While honour and horror can’t find grounds to reconcile in Tsuzuki’s mind, Killing does an incredible job at sublimating the gore. The final part of the film consists of a rather uneventful chase through the forest. Yet, while not much happens factually, a roaring psychological warfare unfolds through the anxiety-inducing soundtrack and successive shots alternating reality and hallucinations.
Killing incorporates just enough of the genre conventions to satisfy our expectations while it takes us to other grounds. It is a highly poetic and incredibly delicate offering – although it seems paradoxical to describe a film including graphic bowel evisceration as delicate – which is well worth a watch!