Ginger Nuts of Horror
Come on in, the water’s baffling…
A Garden Without Birds (Kotori Tachi No Inai Hanazono) (1992)
Dir. Akira Nobi, Japan, 22 minutes
Of late, I find myself on something of a short film kick. I’ve always been a big fan of short stories in my reading, so there’s a certainly logic that I probably would like shorter, snappier movies, right? What’s interesting is that – because short films don’t always get the same fanfare and coverage as their longer counterparts – very often you go into a movie with no idea what it’s all about.
That was very much the case with A Garden Without Birds.
I also have to say that coming out of the movie I still have no idea what it’s all about.
Fair enough, not having English subtitles and not speaking a word of Japanese is always going to pose some sort of barrier. However, I deeply suspect that subtitles would have done very little to illuminate this very strange cinematic offering.
We begin with four young people – two couples – meeting up in a hotel before very quickly heading up to a hotel room to meet a gimp and a dominatrix. What was most likely intended to be a night of naughty fun turns distinctly sour, for reasons I find very hard to ascertain – one of the men deliberately cuts himself to shreds in the very opening and that sets the tone for an evening of gore and violence.
Plot-wise, it’s very hard to gauge an awful lot more than that. It ends up with almost every character dead, in many cases mutilated and injured in distinctly unpleasant ways. Most of the visuals are black and white, and there are often pieces of classical music playing whilst the madness ensues, so there is a sense of something arthouse if not really the meaty content or emotional depth to really back that up. It’s a matter of style over substance in terms of visuals and musical accompaniment.
There are also a number of visions that the characters go through – all in vivid colour – which present increasingly unlikely scenarios with steadily increasing volumes of blood. Why these are colour while the remainder are black and white, I don’t know, but the overall effect is leaving something even more disjointed that what we have in the present day reality.
This one is splatter, pure and simple, no matter how you dress it up and how much violin and birdsong you can throw over it. I can’t even decipher the significance of the title – maybe it is some sort of reference to its style and look. Sure, it might look like a garden, but there’s no birds in it. Or flowers, or plants, or bees, just lots of gruesome special effects that look fairly dated into 2016.
For me, this one sits in a club with some of the latter Guinea Pig movies – especially Devil Woman Doctor – yes, it is bonkers. And yes, it is gory, often fairly creatively so. Let’s not dispute that. But that doesn’t necessarily make it good.
RATING: 4/10. This one feels like one for serious aficionados rather than your casual viewer of extreme movies. Even at 22 minutes I was finding it a bit long by the end of things – the visuals and sounds are obviously trying to be clever but that’s just not enough quality elsewhere – character, plot, effects, real drama and tension – to give it much of a rating. So it’s a pretty disappointing 4/10 from me. Maybe you’d be better off watching your garden for 22 minutes, birds or no…