Twenty-something slackers Sugioka (Masanobu Ando), Ishihara (Ryuhei Matsuda) and their three friends meet up for a karaoke party on the beach every month. When not spying on their sexy neighbour taking a shower, they like to dress up in baggy pants and bowler hats (or sometimes S&M gear!) and sing the much-loved hits from the Showa era (post-war to late Eighties). When Sugioka hits on a “oba-san” (middle-aged divorced woman) he is infuriated to find his advances rebuffed. After all, doesn’t every oba-san secretly crave a hot young boy-toy? He reacts by slitting her throat. The dead woman’s close friend Midori Hemmi (Kayako Kishimoto) discovers the body. She and her four, karaoke-loving oba-san friends, all of them also named Midori, declare war on these rowdy young punks. Thus starts a tit-for-tat killing spree that spirals wildly out of control.
Based on a novel by the celebrated Ryu Murakami, Karaoke Terror is rather better served by its original Japanese title: The Complete Showa Era Songbook, given that it is not some campy gore-fest (though certainly humorous and bloody) but rather a caustic social satire. As adapted by Tetsuo Shinohara - who directed the similarly offbeat School Day of the Dead (2000) - the film targets Japan’s ever-widening generation gap and cites a woeful lack of communication as the chief cause. Aside from the crime, what really spurs the Midoris into action is the lack of any emotion shown by their late friend’s husband and son.
The seemingly disparate young men and oba-sans actually share a lot in common. Both groups are undervalued by society (a middle-aged cop remarks the young men are better off dead, while an aging gun-dealer goes into a violent rage at the mere mention of these affluent, carefree divorcees). Both seek refuge in their hobbies. And both come to derive a certain perverse joy from gang violence. The Midoris organise their revenge killing with unsettling efficiency. The slacker boys maintain the sound of blood gushing from their victims’ throats are quite literally, music to their ears. No surprise that neither side comes out the winner.
Overlong, with a few too many rambling surreal interludes, the satire grows muddled as it becomes increasingly harder to ascertain what Shinohara’s stance is on all of this. While played for laughs, there is a misogynistic bent as Midori Iwata (Sawa Suzuki) is seduced and humiliated by a cocky young stud (who isn’t part of the gang) prior to her murder, and the elderly gun-runner denounces oba-sans as “cockroaches” and helps the last surviving lad build an atomic bomb to wipe out this “menace to society” made up of “organisms who stopped evolving.” The Midoris are equally scathing about their opponents. While surveying the lads camping it up in leather bondage gear, one Midori remarks “Japan fought the war and lost only to spawn perverts like them.” Though tongue in cheek, the satire curiously lets older men off the hook and inadvertently reinforces conservative ideas about middle-aged women and “wayward” youth. Also - and this might be a translation error - since when were women aged 31-36 thought of as middle-aged?
Everything ends with a typically Japanese bit of jokey nihilism that is fast becoming a tiresome cliché. Well acted throughout, but too eager to consign humanity to the trash heap.