Chronicle Of The After-School Wars (Japan 2018)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 5/17/20
Cast: Miori Ichikawa, Ririka

Wow. This is a challenging film to watch and I really wish I had a subtitled version of it. I'm sure I got the details wrong, but here's what I came up with. A melancholy high school girl named Sena (Miori Ichikawa) witnesses one of her classmates named Yudachi (Ririka) getting beat up while trying to protect her sketchbook. Or is it Sena's sketchbook? Anyway, Sena somehow gets a bloody nose and Yudachi offers her a handkerchief. Sena comes back later to return the handkerchief, but falls asleep on the roof of the school. She wakes up late at night and finds herself locked inside the school, where she follows a trail of blood and discovers a girl with her hand cut off. Sensing danger, she flees to the gymnasium and locks herself inside the storage locker. The next thing you know, Sena and all of the girls at the school are wearing bizarre loli-goth cosplay school uniforms and the foliage has turned pink. Additionally, everyone is armed and out to kill each other. There's also a perimeter around the school grounds where people are shot if they stray too far. What kind of sick game is going on? Sena is rightly confused and taken in by another group of girls who plan on raiding the school to find answers. Shockingly, the normally catatonic Sena turns against them and starts going on a killing spree. Interleaved with the action are confusing flashbacks to multiple different timelines and realities, which implies that Sena was sexually assaulted by her father and is playing out some sort of trauma related revenge fantasy. But it's totally unclear and left to interpretation. The ending becomes even more confusing as Sena slits her wrist to commit suicide, and then wakes up in the hospital as Yudachi. Who then goes back to school in her hospital gown to find Sena. Huh? Are they actually the same person? Is Sena just a psychological projection of Yudachi's split personality? Is everything just in Sena's or Yudachi's frail and fractured minds? Just what the hell is going on?!? And then the credits roll with a jarringly perky guitar-driven pop song. Talk about bizarre...

Like I said, without the benefit of subtitles, you're going to be completely lost in this psychotic and psychedelic killing field. The film's tag line calls it a cross between "Tag" (2015) and "Battle Royale" (2000), but that only scratches the surface. The film also advertises that there are forty girls, when in fact, there are only fourteen. Maybe the other twenty-six were murdered before Sena woke up in wonderland? It's a good looking and well-made film for the most part, although the visual effects are poor and the undercranked action scenes are exceedingly weak. But this is a psychological thriller, not an action film, so I can begrudgingly forgive the poor fight choreography. The actresses are excellent and give top-notch performances, although they spend a LOT of time crying. There's even a hint of girl romance to spice up the drama and confusion a bit. The pacing is glacially slow, which is a common problem with Japanese cinema, but that helps dial up the tension and mystery of what the hell is going on. The plot is almost entirely dialog driven, punctuated by sparse, but poignant piano music. And the film was evidently adapted from a play that came out the year before. Again, it's impossible to tell what's actually happening, but it was compelling enough to keep my attention all the way through, and I found it fascinating trying to figure out all of the symbolic connections.