More than Schoolgirl vs. Chainsaw Man
“Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge” (A direct transliteration of Japanese title “Negatibu happi chenso ejji”) was an entirely different and better film than I was expecting. From the name and cover, I was looking forward to a cheesy Japanese chainsaw slasher flick with a healthy dose of panties. Instead, I got a sweet superhero-themed romance tinged with some grief psychology.
I should have known better when I saw that “Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge” is based on a manga and novel by Takimoto Tatsuhiko (Welcome to the N.H.K.). Takimoto generally deals with deeper social and psychological issues under the veneer of slick pop culture, and that is exactly what he delivers here.
High school student Yamamoto Yosuke is a self-confessed wuss. He lives in a tiny one-room school dorm with a roommate who wants to be an artist but never finishes anything he starts, and both of them live in the shadow of their friend Noto. Noto was the cool guy, the leader of their trio who even went out James Dean-style dying in a high speed motorcycle crash that left him forever young and cool. Without the spark of Noto in his life, Yosuke is slowly sinking down into depression and surrender. Suddenly, he runs into Eri, a beautiful “Pretty Soldier” who seems straight out of a comic book. In her schoolgirl uniform and doing impossible martial arts, she battles a massive, dark Chainsaw Man each night, who vanishes when Eri manages to penetrate his exposed heart with one of her knives but reappears again the next night. Yosuke decides that his purpose in life is to support Eri in her battle, and the two slowly become close together as Yosuke learns of Eri’s own grief, and uncovers the true origin and meaning of the Chainsaw Man.
So, those things I was expecting…gore, blood, panties…never show up here. (Although the lead actress Seki Megumi is without question a hottie, even when she dives into a swimming pool in full schoolgirl costume we never get a peek. She has one of that magic skirts that never flips up even when upside-down.) “Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge” is far from a cheap exploitation flick and actual requires some thought on the part of the viewer to penetrate the plot. Director Kitamura Takuji never tells us directly what is going on, and instead lays out the puzzle pieces for the viewer to arrange.
Although it does have some amateur moments, for a first film Kitamura did a surprisingly good job mixing the CGI enhanced martial arts action with the more staid pleasantries of Yosuke and Eri having coffee together. Pacing wise, the film spends much more time on the relationships than on the nightly battles. The teachers at school are interesting secondary characters and provide some comic relief, and there are nice moments of humor and slice-of-life reality punctuating the story.
I don’t want to make the film sound more brilliant than it is, but it definitely exceeded my expectations. This is a film not to be judged by its cover. Instead of that scene on the front, there should have been a quaint picture of Eri riding on the back of Yosuke’s bicycle to give you a better feel of what to expect. But maybe it is the surprises that “Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge” throws you way that makes it really worth while.