Shiromajo Gakuen (Japan 2013)

Rating: *(*)
Alternate Title: Innocent Lilies
Review Date: 2/23/15
Director: Koichi Sakamoto
Cast: Moga Mogami, Nemu Yumemi, Mirin Furukawa, Eimi Naruse, Ayane Fujisaki, Lisa Aizawa, Arisa Komiya, Hikari Takara, Kasumi Yamaya, Sae Shiraishi, Yu Aikawa

Koichi Sakamoto is best known as a hard hitting action director, so when I heard he was making a schoolgirl film, it definitely caught my attention. Unfortunately, it's a complete mess and defies explanation. Without subtitles, the story is difficult to figure out, but here's what I came up with. Haunted by the death of her sister, Moga (Moga Mogami) finds herself at Shiromajo Gakuen, which roughly translates to "White Witch School." There, she and six other troubled teenage girls spend their time training and studying witchcraft, and eventually learn to summon magical weapons out of their own bodies. Unfortunately, their final exam consists of killing each other so that only one survives. And who do you think the headmistress of the school turns out to be? Moga's final adversary comes as no surprise, and she must summon the spirits of her slain classmates in order to achieve victory.

While the action scenes are nicely staged and executed, the cinematography and editing are some of the worst I've ever seen. The forced handheld shaky-cam serves no purpose other than to annoy, nearly every scene is burdened with pointless focus racking, and scenes are cut together with an overused and awful looking light leak effect. None of this crap is necessary, and it only makes the director look stupid and incompetent. The fetishistic approach to the non-action scenes is also a bit unsettling, and the voyeuristic camera lingers uncomfortably on the girls no matter what they're doing. Nearly every kind of voyeurism is employed as we watch the girls walking, jogging, swimming, weight training, sweating, bathing, dressing, undressing, sleeping, cuddling, drinking milk, stroking each other's hair, painting each other's fingernails, and adjusting their swimsuit bottoms. The film also capitalizes on classic schoolgirl imagery, with short pleated skirts, knee-high socks, striped tights, see-through nighties, cat ears, chokers, glasses, overly sculpted hair styles, excessive lip gloss, frilly gothic-lolita outfits, and surgical masks. The only anime cliché missing is a girl with an eye patch. While it's all presented in a playfully innocent manner, it still comes across as a little pervy (at least to this Westerner's eyes).

The actresses do an adequate job with the material, but are surprisingly plain looking as far as conventional beauty standards are concerned. To their credit, the girls deliver their action scenes with physical intensity and energetic enthusiasm, and Sakamoto does a very good job of blending in stunt doubles for the more demanding shots. The disciplinarian in the group (Hikari Takara) appears to be the most talented fighter in the cast, and her kicks are both graceful and powerful. Moga Mogami also does an excellent job of holding her own once she gets a sword in her hands, and she's quite fun to watch. Amusingly, the same three girls from "009-1: The End Of The Beginning" (2013) show up as a group of bullies and get their asses kicked once again.

The film utilizes a lot of green screen compositions and CGI visual effects, which look competent for the most part, but aren't particularly interesting. There is some shock value, though, as the girls' weapons are physically ripped out of their bodies. In one particularly memorable scene, Arisa Komiya sprouts giant angelic wings out of her back, then lifts her skirt to reveal a large bloody gash on her inner thigh, which she reaches into and pulls out a flintlock pistol. Wow. Only in Japan... Sadly, the few highlights of the film can't overcome the horrible filmmaking, and the overall impression is one of confusion and disappointment.