One of the best aspects of DVD is that it has brought so many obscure and previously hard-to-find foreign films to the U.S. Before this, if one didn't catch these movies at a film festival or in bootleg form, the only way to experience them was to read about them. I have found that most publications which write about foreign films don't do a very good job of describing the plot or tone of the films and watching them is usually a jarring experience. A case in point is the All Night Long series from Japan, which I had previously seen described as brutal, but that didn't go quite far enough. The first three films in the series have been collected by Media Blasters in the All Night Long Collection.
The three films offered here are not a series in the sense that they contain the same characters, but each film has a similar premise involving the state of youth culture in Japan and the traumatic effects of violence.
All Night Long features three teenaged boys -- Shinji Saito (Ryosuke Suzuki), a student at a technical school who hopes to work with airplanes; Kensuke Suzuki (Eisuke Tsunoda), a rich playboy who drives a huge American car; and Tetsuya Tanaka (Yoju Ietomi), a shy, studios boy. The three are strangers as the film opens, but they are brought together when they witness a brutal murder. This event brings the three together, but after that, there lives begin to fall apart. Kenuke suggests that they have a party with girls, and the planning of this becomes the obsession of the trio. Tetsuya begins to slip in school and Shinji loses focus of his job plans. On the night of the party, each of the boys experiences a violent trauma, which leads to even more violence in their thirst for revenge.
All Night Long 2: Atrocity introduces us to Shunichi (Masashi Endo), a shy, bespectacled boy who like working with models. For reasons which aren't explained, he owes money to a violent homosexual gangster (whose name is never given), whose gang beats and tortures Shunichi. Shunichi feels that his life is taking a turn for the better when he makes some new friends. However, the gang attacks them as well, leading Shunichi to erupt in violence.
All Night Long 3 is subtitled "The Final Chapter", but as with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, this title is a lie as there have been two more All Night Long films. In this third installment, we meet Kikuo (Yuji Kitagawa), a shy boy with glasses (are you beginning to see a pattern here?). Kikuo's hobby is placing pest strips at garbage dumps so that he can catch flies to feed to his carnivorous plants. One day, he begins to go through some garbage bags and finds one belonging to a young woman. He begins to routinely steal her garbage, thus learning about her and becoming obsessed with her. As Kikuo (who looks like the Japanese version of Urkel) learns more and more about the woman, he begins to spiral into madness.
Don't these sound like fun movies? Writer/director Katsuya Matsumura helmed all three of these films and it's very clear that he has something to say about the human condition. After all, the tagline on the DVD box is "Human Beings are Garbage". The first two films deal with seemingly normal teenagers who resort to violence when put in extreme situations. In that sense, the movies aren't that far away from Lord of the Flies or Battle Royale. Also, the movie comments on the state of teenage life in Japan. The characters feel pressured to succeed and there are very few adults in the movies. (The ones that do appear in All Night Long 3 are just as perverse and disturbed as the kids.) Several of the characters mention that there parents are never home and no one seems to be looking out for these children. All Night Long 3 doesn't fit the mold exactly, as Kikuo seems fairly disturbed as the movie begins, so it's not all that surprising when he goes crazy.
While the All Night Long movies make some interesting points, viewing them isn't like watching a political debate. Matsumura doesn't pull any punches with the content, and the films are filled with violent, disturbing imagery. (All Night Long 2 has the most disturbing subtext, while 3, with its garbage rummaging, contains the most foul ideas.) Due to this, most will be put off by the films. The movies are very dark and brooding, and there is no comic relief in any of them. The nihilistic tone of the films never lets up and viewing all three at once is an ordeal. In fact, Matsumura may go too far, as All Night Long becomes ludicrous towards the end when it becomes apparent that anyone can be a victim. The movies may reflect a real problem in Japan, but they aren't very entertaining, and thus will appeal to only the bravest audience.
Despite the fact that the DVD box states that the aspect ratio is 1.33:1, All Night Long is presented in a letterboxed format, but is not anamorphic. The other two films are indeed 4:3. Given the low-budget nature of these movies, the transfer look fairly good. The images are clear and sharp, with only moderate grain. The picture is a bit dark at times, but not overly so. There is some noticeable artifacting in all three movies, but this is to be expected. Also, video noise is very apparent whenever the screen fades to black. The transfers aren't perfect, but the defects are mainly minor and not distracting.
All three movies contain Dolby 2.0 stereo audio tracks. These tracks provide clear dialogue and sound effects. The music reproduction is good as well. Each track does show a minor amount of hissing. The subtitles are white and easy to read.
There are no extras on the discs, save for trailers for other Media Blasters releases.
The All Night Long Collection is a 3-disc set which offers the first three films in the series. The movies are violent, brutal, risque and hard to watch, but it's clear that the movies have a message about society as well. But, don't say that you weren't warned.