A transfer student targeted by classmates in her small, rural town exacts hyperbolically gory vengeance in Liverleaf, Eisuke Naito’s adaptation of a cult-horror manga by Rensuke Oshikiri. Haruka (Anna Yamada) endures the relentless cruelty of a group of girls, led by the orange-bobbed Taeko (Rinka Otani), with quiet resignation until their antagonism escalates to an act of arson that leaves Haruko’s parents dead and her younger sister clinging to life in the ICU. Though Naito has made a career out of his preoccupation with sadistic teens (beginning with his debut, the charmingly named Let’s Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club), Liverleaf brings depressingly little insight, psychological or otherwise, to bear on its grim brutality.
The film’s broad-strokes setup and methodical pace only stir to life once Haruka re-emerges from grief as a red-clad Lady Snowblood, lending the drawn-out sequences of torture and murder a nasty, exploitative kick. Yet there’s hardly any suspense to be found and little of the sociopolitical subtext of, say, Battle Royale, and since few of the characters are developed beyond a single trait (i.e., one has an abusive father, one longs to escape to Tokyo and become a hairdresser), Liverleaf quickly devolves into a repetitive spectacle of young bodies sliced and impaled and blood spraying across pristine white snow. There’s a surprising interlude, late in the film, that expands on the relationship between Haruka and Taeko (played with nuanced tenderness by Yamada and Otani), but the unsparing nihilism, and the inescapable sense that Naito has reserved most of his creative energy and budget for gratuitous adolescent bloodshed, makes the melancholy moments ring hollow.
Published as part of New York Asian Film Festival 2018 | Dispatch 1.