Bamy (2017): Written and directed by Jun Tanaka. Starring: Hironobu Yukinaga, Hiromi Nakazato, Misaki Tsuge, Toshi Yanagi, Yuki Katsuragi. Running Time: 100 minutes.
Rating: 1/4 (if it really is a horror film)
It’s been a week, and I still can’t decide if Bamy, the feature-film debut of director Jun Tanaka, isn’t secretly a satire, a point-by-point takedown of every tired cliché in the horror genre. If it is, then it just might be the most brilliant thing ever, because I’ve never before seen a film use every trick in the book to (try and) spook me, and yet somehow manage to provoke the exact opposite reaction.
The movie begins in an elevator, high, high over the Tokyo cityscape, as Fumiko descends (from her job? No one seems to do actual work in this movie) to the ground floor to head home, when she happens to encounter her old school friend, Ryota. The movie blinks and it’s a year later; they are now engaged and planning their wedding. How this happened- why they fell in love, what exactly they see each other, and how Fumiko can stand Ryota’s endlessly stony-faced non-presence- is the film’s greatest mystery, far beyond anything involving the ghosts.
Ah yes, I forget to mention, there are ghosts. You see, Ryota has the ability to see those from The Beyond, and since they apparently sense this via their ghost-radar (ghostdar, if you will), they regularly show up and follow him around, every day, all the time, like a puppy horde dressed in Goth drag. But not cute puppies, more like pug puppies, the living proof that God certainly is capable of making very grave mistakes. Their presence, plus the fact that only Ryota and no one else can see them, makes his daily life more and more of a hassle, until he finally starts to crack.
There are the germs here, in this first part of the film, of a good ghost story. Portraying ghosts as more of a nuisance rather than a threat is a fine idea for an alternative take on the genre, and our first introductions to the ghosts and how they are filmed, often sliding into the camera in parts of the shots that are deliberately shadowed and out-of-focus, are genuinely good.
The impressiveness of these moments, though, is pretty much the sole basis for my one star, because they are constantly offset by how teeth-gnashingly aggravating every scene involving the two main characters is. I can’t decide if it’s the writing, the directing, or the actors themselves, but for a couple supposedly head-over-heels enough to want to get married barely a year after meeting each other, there is ZERO chemistry to be found anywhere between them. They barely even touch each other outside of a few makeout sessions, which are so forced, loud, and awkward they’re borderline unwatchable. Honestly, those parts were far scarier than anything involving the ghosts.
Most of these issues, I feel, stem from Ryota. Fumiko is at least trying to have a normal life and normal relationship, but Ryota is utterly devoid of expression of any sort from start to finish; he mostly just stares off into the middle-distance, whether or not a ghost is around. Not only did he apparently never think to talk about his ghost problems with the “love of his life,” he also manages to act completely shocked whenever people get offended when he forgets dates, breaks things at work (seriously, HOW does this man hold down a job), ruins dinners, and insists they can’t shop in certain bridal stores “just because.” Every scene- seriously, EVERY ONE- involving the two of them trying to plan something or other for the wedding is trashed in this way, and every one of them left me grabbing my head, staring at the screen, wanting to scream “Fumiko, WHY ARE YOU WITH THIS DOUCHEBAG? And why did all the color suddenly wash out?”
This was my mindset a little less than halfway through the film, but it’s at that point where things take such a turn, and go to such unimaginable places, that I suddenly achieved a sort of Zen State; clearly, OBVIOUSLY, this is not something I should try to take seriously, or I would die. All that was left to do was laugh. And laugh I did, as the second half of Bamy treated me to an endless stream of moments so bizarre, so random, so entirely without purpose or meaning, that they broke anything left of the movie’s horror atmosphere. Some of them were so unreal I’m not entirely sure I didn’t dream them; one particularly moment involving a washing machine was so far beyond any kind of sense that I’m still struggling to accept that I live in a world where it exists.
I do not know how to properly convey this experience with words, but I shall try. A short summary then; after breaking down at work one day, Ryota chances on a young woman who, it turns out, can also see ghosts, and is as frustrated by them as he is. Fortunately, Ryota has now discovered the secret to making them go away; just bonk them on the head and hit them with a cardboard box.
I swear. I am not making this up. Much of the second-half consists of them running around Tokyo (Ryota lasts about 10 hot seconds before he starts cheating on his darling fiancé with his new Seance Flame), finding random ghosts, and abusing them in truly cruel ways until they go away. At least, I THINK they’re ghosts; some of them are too far away to tell, and I swear that one dude by the river was just a regular pedestrian out for his morning jog. Maybe there never were any ghosts, and these two are just sociopathic assholes blighting the Japanese nation. And if these ARE ghosts, and if this movie is in any way reflective of how living-dead relations actually work, then Lord, let me ascend to the next plane as soon as possible, because the living are dicks.
Bamy is one of those infamous, you-have-to-see-this-to-believe-it movies that fail so hard at what (I think) it wanted to achieve, it’s actually kind of amazing. It goes in one direction, and turns itself around so hard by the end that it makes a 360-degree turn back to the start and is more or less parodying itself by the time the contusion-inducing climax hits. It’s ultimately because of how far down its own rabbit hole the movie goes that I still haven’t managed to convince myself 100% either way if this is a real, serious horror movie, or a satire so straight-face it forgot how to blink. The director of the film held a Q&A afterwards, but I didn’t want to be the one person to stand up and ask, “So, this was a comedy, right?” only for the answer to end up being, “Um, no. You asshole.”
And I’m ok with not asking. Honestly, I would rather this film’s true intent and purpose remain a mystery to me, because any answer offered would never hold up to what I felt and thought during the astounding, mystifying, confusing, and confounding experience that is Bamy. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to prep my hammers by dipping them in holy water, just in case I need to fend off any defenders of this movie who get in through the crawl space in my apartment and stand on the landing, awkwardly pointing at me, mumbling something about my umbrellas.