Bakemono (2023) Review
Bakemono, the film’s title card informs us, is Japanese for monster, a combination of “bake” which means changing or transforming and “mono” which means thing or creature. And that is what the film is about, a shapeshifting creature killing people in a Tokyo Airbnb. Killing lots of people and shedding lots of blood in the process, which is both the film’s strong point and biggest weakness.
Writer/director Doug Roos (The Sky Has Fallen, Midnight) has et up a very minimal plot that involves Mitsou (Takashi Irie, Dragon Black, Planet of Amoebas) who has conjured up the demonic creature which now preys on those unfortunate enough to rent the apartment. This leads to a parade of victims. Some it simply attacks, others it seems to draw out their baser emotions causing them to quarrel with, or physically attack their companions. In one case, that leads to a rather bloody fork to the eye effect.
Roos, an American who has lived in Tokyo for six years, intended for the victims to represent a cross-section of the city’s population, both native Japanese and the many foreigners who live there as well. Similarly, their reasons for being there are diverse as well, an adulterous couple making a rendezvous, friends on a shopping trip, a man trying to deal with a breakup, etc. The creature and the mental effects it has on them is a reflection of the darker side of the city itself and the effects it has on its inhabitants.
Unfortunately, there are so many characters, there are over 40 actors in the cast, that giving them all sufficient background and depth would have resulted in a Bakemono being a four-hour movie. As a result, the message he’s trying to put across sometimes ends up lost in translation, as it were.
What I found to be a bigger problem with Bakemono was the way it tells the character’s stories. Like Memento and Pulp Fiction, it moves back and forth in time, relating events in a non-linear fashion. With so many characters, I found myself losing track off things more than once. It was worse early in Bakemono, when I was trying to figure out just what was happening. It’s easy to be misled into thinking the creature is stalking the entire building, or become confused when someone I thought I saw die shows up unharmed. Once I realized what was happening, it started making more sense.
But I have a feeling it’s not so much the plot that will draw people to see Bakemono, it’s the massive amount of bloody practical effects that have been crammed into the film’s hundred and two minutes, The effects were created by Roos who also shot and edited the film, and they are excellent. The creature itself is impressive, looking like Skinless Frank, if Hellraiser had been directed by Lucio Fulci.
With a large percentage of those 40 cast members coming to a bad end, there are also plenty of attacks as well, whether performed by the creature or by someone whose mind it has messed with. Towards the end, it did start to feel like a bit of overkill, and I would have traded a couple of disposable victims for a bit more character development, though.
The result is an ambitious, if flawed film, that should find an audience with both fans of experimental film and gorehounds. Those looking for a conventional creature feature may find it a little too weird, but adventurous viewers will probably find it worth the effort.
Bakemono will make its world premiere December 9th in San Francisco at Another Hole in the Head Film Festival with Doug Roos in attendance. Several other films we’ve reviewed, including Alien Planet, Walking Supply and The Hyperborean will be screening, so if you’re in the area, check it out.