A teacher awakens in his classroom with a large "X" branded onto his face, only dimly aware of what is going on, but when he sees the red box pushed towards him with "X Game" written on it, be begins to panic. Nevertheless, he takes a piece of paper from it then reads the message, which does nothing to soothe his nerves, and soon after he finds himself at the top of a tall building in Tokyo, whereupon he falls off - but did he jump or was he pushed? One of his old pupils, Hideaki (Hirofumi Araki), who was at a reunion with him only recently, means to find out...
This was one of those horror movies where a bunch of bullies got their gruesome comeuppance, a theme for shockers and slashers which had been popular with the filmmakers of such works since at least the nineteen-seventies, and as bullying was as much in the headlines in Japan as it was anywhere else, X Game seemed to be based in firm foundations. The trouble being with such plots that those filmmakers looked to be taking even more pleasure in killing off the victimisers than the victimisers had in tormenting their victims, rendering in this case at least a dubious morality where fighting fire with fire would be the message.
But it went a little deeper than that, because our lead character Hideaki appears to be a chap of unimpeachable character, so why does he end up rounded up with a bunch of three other nasty types, one of whom isn't really all that nasty when we meet her, and put through an endurance test where the X Game some of them used to physically and mentally torture one little girl in their class when they were kids is implemented with stronger methods? That we discover over the course of a far too long couple of hours, which was applying a morality to what to all intents and purposes was yet another torture porn flick, this hailing from a movie industry which had become past masters at putting characters through a living hell.
The victim girl is all grown up now, and played by Ayaka Kikuchi who would probably be the best known performer here thanks to her membership of "the world's biggest pop group" AKB48 - that's biggest as in number of members, not most popular, though they were certainly up there in global support. Here she didn't get that much to do, but what she did take part in was suitably galling for Hideaki, mainly because his Swiss cheese memory was a major plot point, giving rise to the question why not forget your school persecution because if you hang onto it you will end up as bitter and twisted as the worms that turned in this movie? Of course, if you're justifiably aggrieved then you may take some satisfaction in seeing those old enemies brought low.
But do you really want to see them dead? And do you really want to do the killing yourself? And if you do, surely there are easier ways to do it than this overelaborate set-up we're faced with here. Naturally, this was fiction, and offered vicarious pleasure to anyone who had been bullied at some point in their life, that was if you entertained violent fantasies of getting back at those who slighted you, yet in Hideaki we had a person who demonstrated that once you started obsessing over such things, where would you stop? He's the hero of the movie, and not such a bad chap even when we do find out what he did (peer pressure forced him into it), so does he deserve to sit down on spikes or get his arm slashed or whatever - in fact, does anybody? You could argue this was a sadistic but lightweight horror movie anyway, which was fair enough, but the concerns it had were addressed with sincerity so that X Game could almost be viewed as a talking point, issue movie if it wasn't so over the top in its dramatics. Not bad as these things went, though.
[This is available on Region 2 DVD from the Danger After Dark line.]