Credit: Netflix
by Fred Barrett Featured Film Streaming Scene

Lumberjack the Monster — Takashi Miike

June 12, 2024

Given the baffling and total absence of any marketing from Netflix, the fact that cult movie mainstay Takashi Miike made his return to the genre that made his name might have slipped by even a few of his own fans. (Netflix couldn’t even muster a marketing campaign for Orson Welles’ final film, 2018’s The Other Side of the Wind, so perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise.) Unceremoniously dropped on the platform on June 1, Lumberjack the Monster finds the prolific filmmaker in full-on horror mode for the first time in years.

Miike’s grotesqueries, the good ones anyway, manage to get at something deeper about both their characters and the world they’re made to navigate — male pathology, patriarchal violence, a more general (Japanese) malaise. So how do the director’s horror sensibilities translate to the world of streaming? Right off the bat, any attempts at summarizing this thing will inevitably read like parody: Akira Ninomiya (Kazuya Kamenashi), a morally flexible (read: psychopathic) lawyer, narrowly survives an attack by an axe-wielding serial killer whose M.O. includes cutting victim’s heads open and removing their brains. After recovering in a hospital, Akira, with the help of his similarly morally compromised sidekick-cum-surgeon named Sugitani (Shota Sometani) — whose deadly experiments recently graduated from kittens to human test subject — sets out to find his attacker.

Akira’s own psychopathic tendencies aren’t a mere coincidence, the result of trauma, or a simple stroke of bad cosmic luck, however: as he discovers from a brain scan, he has had a neurochip implanted at some point in the past. The film makes the depth of his externally-induced psychopathy clear during a scene where he murders his fiancée’s father in cold blood in order to take over his law firm. This early kill, as well as the opening sequence which, in classic Miike fashion, involves a crazed knife-wielding woman slitting her own throat as well as the police finding several dead children, sets things in motion intriguingly enough. The first hour of Lumberjack the Monster, then, proceeds like a horror-tinged police procedural — aside from Akira’s investigation, the police, including forensic profiler Ranko Toshiro (Nanao), are also hot on the heels of the murderous madman — before gradually giving way to a more ponderous second half reflecting on the nature of evil and the allure psychopathy. But while both the first and the second halves are serviceable, if not exactly remarkable, the question of whether or not any of what is happening would be deserving of a second (or third) thought were it not for the fact that Miike’s name is attached to the film inevitably begin to materialize.

Contrasted with his best work, Miike’s latest horror turn barely scrapes any interesting ideas. The psycho vs. psycho setup could’ve — should’ve — navigated Lumberjack into a more complex moral and thematic universe than the one it ends up crash-landing on. And that’s before even getting into the fact that the film also fails as gorepunk, the kills taking a backseat to trite philosophical ruminations. There are still hues of the kind of aggressive, libidinal energy unleashed by societal alienation that Miike has captured so well in the past, but this ostensible grand return unfortunately feels pretty much at home with most of what the streaming giant has to offer: flat, rather dull, and ultimately forgettable.

DIRECTOR: Takashi Miike;  CAST: Kazuya Kamenashi, Nanao, Riho Yoshioka, Minosuke;  DISTRIBUTOR: Netflix;  STREAMINGJune 1;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 59 min.