Monday, May 25, 2009

144) Children of the Dark (2008)

144) Children of the Dark (2008) Dir: Junji Sakamoto Not Yet Released Date Seen: May 25th, 2009 Rating: 1.75/5

Based on its lurid title, you can tell that director Junji Sakamoto's Children of the Dark questionably portrays something undeniably sleazy, in this case child prostitution and organ harvesting in Thailand. Based on a novel by Yogil San, the author of the novel that Blood and Bones is adapted from, Children of the Dark is a very angry but very misguided drama about two Japanese foreigners' refusal to let their apathy take root. At its best, it's an unmoving drama about the pair's desperate need to get closure and justice. At worst, it's no better than kiddie exploitation.

The pair's inability to do anything in the face of monstrous evil is the key motivator in Children of the Dark, one that is given a very clumsy, unfocussed voice through their search for a specific child. When Aranya (Setanan Homyamyen), a little girl from a local Thai village goes missing, it's meant to pull both Hiroyuki (Yosuke Eguchi), an investigative journalist and Keiko (Aoi Miyazaki), a volunteer for an NGO (non-governmental organization) children's school, out of their complacence. Sitting on their hands while they try to find a way to help children in general feels like a timid excuse in the face of the impending loss of an individual life. 

Hiroyuki has the right idea initially, saying that in doing his research and attempting to expose the group that sells these children's bodies, he's doing a lot more than Keiko could ever do in trying to just save Aranya. He reneges on that clear-headed approach in the face of Keiko's outspoken outrage, a blind torrent of anger that culminates in a painfully protracted tantrum she pitches in the home of the Japanese couple that would knowingly sacrifice Aranya's life to save their son's. That kind of senseless rancor is impressive but it does not make for a convincing argument.

Without any kind of details regarding the frequency of such illegal fronts or the extent of government complicity, it's clear that Children of the Dark relishes its role as angry prophet of doom too much to appeal to anything but the viewer's basic disgust. In its attempt to shake the viewer up, Sakamoto films two hideous simulated sex scenes that are meant to graphically illustrate the pain these kids are subjected to. In the most memorable and morally reprehensible scene, a child's bleeding rear is shown in soft-focus, highlighting a red trickle on blurred flesh. That kind of confrontational imagery may be admirably trying to wake us up to unpalatable violence but when it's couched in a bleak and aimless procedurial like this one, it makes Sakamoto look as manipulative as the people his film condemns. 

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