It’s clear from the way they pay tribute to the filmmakers that came before that first-time writers/directors Kenta Osaka and Hirohito Takimoto watched a lot of horror movies before sitting down to create Tokyo Home Stay Massacre. Some of their tributes will be immediately identifiable, such as the spooky creature with the extremely long hair reminiscent of the haunted spirit in Ju-On. Some are more stylistic, as the fast-paced editing of the action sequences that recall indie splatter flicks like Tokyo Gore Police. And any Japanese horror fan who has watched Oldboy will immediately recognize what happens next when the claw of a hammer is introduced to the front teeth of a victim.
While such tributes are fun, one can’t help when watching Tokyo Home Stay Massacre that Osaka and Takimoto had made more of an effort to be original with their debut movie. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s hard to scare an audience that’s seen it all before. If they were spoofing the films they reference it would be different, but they’re not and the result is a mess.
Tokyo Home Stay Massacre tells the tale of three American college students who travel to Japan’s capital on an exchange program designed to further their studies of the culture. Or something like that: Of the three, only one of the Americans seems to have any actual interest in Japan; the other two, a couple whose love is on the rocks, seem to be there hoping a change of scenery will help heal their relationship.
From the minute they arrive at their homestay home the audience immediately knows something is terribly wrong. It’s not just that the house doesn’t resemble the photo the Americans got from their college. There is a palpable feeling of danger that oozes out of the dilapidated abode that would have any sensible person running back to the airport. Being young, dumb college kids, though they decide to dive right in for the ‘authentic’ experience.
You can tell from the movie’s title what happens next.
There are some entertaining moments in the Tokyo Home Stay Massacre, especially the final 20 minutes or so when all hell breaks loose in the home. There’s a fair amount of gore, some really low budget thrills, and a general sense of weirdness that gets cranked up to 11. The fight between one of the college kids and two police officers who identify as ‘feminine men’ is one of the more bizarre genre moments of this or just about any other year. It may not be ‘good,’ but once seen it will never be forgotten.
To get to that moment, though, can be a struggle. The acting in Tokyo Home Stay Massacres, especially the performances of the three college students, is generally awful. The actors don’t know how to interact with each other in a scene; they read their lines and they seem to go blank as if rehearsing in their head what their next line is instead of connecting with the person they are in the scene with. It gives the film a sense of amateur awkwardness that quickly wears thin.
There’s a big problem with the soundtrack that Kenta and Takimoto use throughout the movie, especially in the way they use this almost subliminal throbbing pulse of sound through the speakers at moments when it’s unnecessary. It may be a stylistic choice, but it comes across as more of a mistake than part of their sound design as if they forgot to turn off the spooky music machine they picked up at the local Halloween pop-up store. Think of John Williams’ brilliant score for Jaws, the duunnn dunnn… duuuunnnn duun…that tells us something is about to happen. Now imagine it playing on the soundtrack right before Mrs. Kintner (Lee Fierro) slaps Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) across the face because he knew there was a shark in the water. It would ruin the moment.
Granted, the soundtrack problems in Tokyo Home Stay Massacre are more annoying than anything that severe. But it’s enough to pull you out of the movie. Maybe enough to hit stop and go look for something else to watch, which is something an indie film like this can’t afford to do.
- John Black, Tokyo Home Stay Massacre