With six movies in his resume (one of which awesomely titled Let’s Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club) all about deranged and troubled teenagers in school, Eisuke Naito was the obvious choice to adapt Liverleaf, a famous Japanese manga, into a horror movie of the same name.
The film follows Haruka (Anna Yamada), the new girl in this small-town school, who’s bullied by her classmates for being an outsider. The bullying, however, is very hardcore and meanspirited, to the point not even Mitsuru (the other outsider kid in the school, played by the wonderful Hiroya Shimizu of The World of Kanako fame) can stop the other kids from hurting and torturing Haruka. As a matter of fact, the bullying intensifies with each scene until it also involves Haruka’s peaceful family: as these horrible acts against the poor girl reach their climax, Haruka finally snaps and decides to get back at them… and the bloodbath begins!
Despite its Japanese release in 2018, only recently the movie has become available for worldwide audiences: you can buy it on DVD (unfortunately a Blu-Ray version isn’t available) or watch it on VOD. Though if you’re very fond of the manga Liverleaf is based on, you might want to avoid this movie, as I understand fans of the source material were very pissed at Naito’s cinematic iteration.
I, however, haven’t read the manga and, as you know if you’ve been following this website for a while, I like to judge films on their own merits (or demerits). Which is why I do highly recommend Liverleaf to those of you (probably the majority) who aren’t familiar with the source material.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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My review is also available on IMDb – Liverleaf (2018)
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As a matter of fact, I was blown away by Liverleaf, which I would consider one of the very best Japanese horror movies to come out in the past 3-4 years.
For starters, I’m always deeply intrigued by the dynamics of dysfunctional youth and troubled coming-of-age stories: the movies on this topic by the likes of Larry Clark, Sion Sono, Abdellatif Kechiche, always trigger a strong reaction from me. There are, though, plenty of subpar flicks in the sub-genre: Liverleaf isn’t one of them.
The story is told through a very compelling narrative that utilises the first act to develop every single character in quite a detailed and relatable way: the protagonist, Haruka, seems really innocent and sweet (which makes watching the bullying heart-wrenching), but she’s also constantly trying to push down her anger, in such a way that prefaces the murder spree she’ll soon embark on. Mitsuru is a rather mysterious character, whose intentions are purposely made unclear until the ending. Nonetheless, the way the other kids are depicted is simply masterful: the bullies are borderline psychopaths, they commit atrocious acts against Haruka and they deliver a sense of rage and hopelessness to the viewer. Still, their family situation makes it also clear that they’re just the result of a sick environment, an addition that gives them depth and relatability.
This leads to the meat of Liverlief for horror fans: the violent and gruesome revenge part of the film, which takes up most of the two-hour-long runtime. In this film, violence and gore are very manga-like: they’re creative, stylised and badass in such a way that makes them more satisfying than off-putting. Liverleaf is a very bloody and gory film that utilises these features in the best way possible, as you’ve come to care for the characters during the first part of the film.
On the other hand, the tone of the movie is extremely bleak and hopeless: every time a glimpse of hope appears, the film kicks you down with an even more depressing or psychologically disturbing scene. It’s the perfect atmosphere for the movie, as the cool violence is paired with deeply sad sequences and an overall despairing vibe.
On a technical level, Liverleaf is very well-made for the most part. The camera-work is solid, although they never take it to the next level in terms of inventiveness, with the exception of snowy scenery and violent sequences: these are, actually, really original in their presentation. The cinematography is beautifully done, with some impressive oners that involve multiple characters and showcase the maniacal attention to detail of this director. The score, while not consistent throughout, is rather melancholy and very fitting with the tone of this picture.
There are a few aspects Liverleaf fails to achieve, especially two sequences that rely heavily on bad CGI: one of these is a crucial scene in the film, which makes the poorly executed special effects look even more distracting. Yet, in manga-fashion, there are a couple of slow-motion shots that feel super cheesy. Speaking of cheese elements, the final song – which plays across the ending and the end credits – feels really misplaced and I couldn’t help but laugh at it for how corny it sounded. In terms of storytelling, Liverleaf indulges into a couple of sub-plots that, while very interesting, aren’t developed enough for runtime’s sake and, because of that, it would’ve been much better had the filmmakers not included them in the final cut.
All in all, Liverleaf is probably the biggest positive surprise for me in 2019 (so far): it’s a horror film that perfectly achieves what the director was set out to do, while adding elements of touching and heart-breaking drama that fit the story in the best way possible. This film is violent, bloody, depressing, infuriating and powerful, which is why I would strongly recommend it, despite its melodramatic or cheesy elements.
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