Serial killers, severed limbs, angsty teens, another Japanese splatter-fest right? Wrong, Goth is the complete opposite, an anti-serial killer film. It does without the shock and gore, the screaming and squelchy sound effects, and takes a distant, detached view on murderers and their victims. It’s not about making the audience jump out of their seats but taking them on a journey of morbid fascination into the cold, almost serene, stillness of death.
The film follows two teenagers in a grey Tokyo suburb; Morino (Takanashi Rin) is a pale, though pretty, loner that no one takes an interest in and Kamiyama (Hongô Kanata) is one of the most popular guys in school. They’re opposites but have one thing in common - an unhealthy interest in the work of a local serial killer who murders beautiful women, removes their left hand and leaves them elegantly posed to be found by a horrified member of the public.
Though the content suggests otherwise, director Takahashi Gen never seeks to shock or linger on the gruesomeness of killing. Instead, he mostly sticks with the point of view of the teenagers who start to visit the crime scenes, and through them we see the artistry involved: the victims are treated as sculptures, or art installations, in a twisted attempt to preserve their beauty. The pair later stumble across the killer’s notebook, which allows them to visit as yet undiscovered bodies and gain further insight into his reasoning.
Takahashi moves things along very slowly, his camera often drifting with the characters in a daze reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. It perfectly captures the mood of the disillusioned teens who rarely feel connected to the world around them. The ‘goth’ of the title isn’t about their outward appearance (they don’t wear long black coats or freaky make-up) but their inner feelings towards death and how their fascination blocks out everything else. While an impatient adult might want to say ‘oh, just grow up’, Takahashi understands that the young, developing mind must come to terms with its own mortality.
Morino and Kamiyama remain passive for most of the film. After finding the notebook they decide not to turn it over to the police, even though it could save someone’s life. They remain withdrawn, desperate to know where the killer will strike next like the admirers of a celebrity. Theirs is a life of watching, whether it’s the news or their teacher at school, so when something exciting and dangerous comes along they want to be a part of it. Morino even goes as far as dressing like one of the victims, a dig at Hollywood movies where the dowdy goth girl suddenly becomes the gorgeous babe.
There’s an attempt to unmask the killer but not in the way you might think, resulting in an unpredictable ‘showdown’ that oozes tension. Takahashi’s only misstep is to add a bonus twist surrounding Morino’s sister and this seems needless, an extra layer of confusion to try and explain why she is the way she is. The director need not worry, his handling of suicidal teen frustration is rightly melancholic and easily believable in a world where death surrounds us in all forms of media.