Hideo Jojo’s oeuvre is rich and varied. While he started out as a pink film director in 2003, his oeuvre his become extremely varied. He did not only try his hand at comedies like Neko Samurai (2014), horror movies like Corpse Prison (2017), but also youth drama’s like On The Edge of Their Seats (2020), our runner up of our Top 10 Japanese Films of 2020. This time, he brings the psychological thriller manga series Joshikosei ni Korosaretai by Usamaru Furuya to life on the big screen.
After the spring break, Haruto Higashiyama (Kei Tanaka) finally gets the chance to start at Nitaka High School as the new Japanese history teacher. His attractive looks and engaged teaching style makes him immediately popular with girls like Kyoko (Riko), the leader of the theatre club, and Maho Sasaki (Sara Minami), a girl with a psychological scar. Yet, the girls do not know the true reason why he became a teacher. He is not driven by a desire to import knowledge to his students or inspire them but fixated by a desire to realize his sexual fantasy of being killed by a high school girl.
After an incident at school, Satsuki Fukugawa (Yuko Oshima), Haruto’s ex-girlfriend, joins the teaching squad as school counselor. The unresolved riddle of their break-up compels her to utilize her position to keep an eye on Haruto. Yet, Haruto does not intent to give up his desire.
To Be Killed by a High School Girl delivers, by pleasantly blending of psychological and mystery elements, an engaging narrative that will keep the spectator engaged throughout. While certain liberties are, of course, taken with some of the psychological problems, Jojo does succeed in crafting a twisted but not unbelievable story about trauma and perverse fantasy.
What makes this mystery thriller so enjoyable is – as can be expected – the structure of the narrative. Even though the narrative unfolds in a chronological manner, it is ‘disturbed’ by interview-sequences, revelatory flashbacks, and pulsating unanswered questions demanding an answer. Why does he desire to be killed by a high school girl? Who is Catherine? What are the meaning of Haruto’s seductive acts and his sweet aiding signifiers (Narra-note 1)? What kind of plan is he orchestrating and how will he ensure it is executed according to his plan?
Of course, as the interactions between the present and the past concatenate, answers are given, a glance is offered at the past of the central characters and their subtle complexity are revealed. Luckily, These revelations do not destroy the lingering mystery at all. On the contrary, these revelations heighten the tension within the narrative, thoughtfully preparing the spectator for the thrilling finale in which Haruto will attempt to find his death at the hands of his Catherine.
It is via some revelations that the most puzzling element of To Be Killed by a High School Girl, Haruto’s masochistic fantasy and desire – i.e. his autoassassinophilia, can be analysed. The central elements that underpins his perverse phantasmatic construction is the presence of a cold mother. Even though he desired her love, desired to be desired by her, nothing he did could persuade his mother to grant him a sign of her love and reveal he was the object of her desire. While, in most cases, this oedipal frustration would lead to a feeling of being radically inadequate for the (m)Other, Haruto’s frustration led to the birth of this perverse phantasm.
The shape of the phantasm is determined by a traumatic event at birth – i.e. the umbilical cord which nearly strangled him at birth. It is this trauma that, by being inscribed in some way in his subject, that structures his destructive desire and dictates his erotic fantasies of being strangled by a female subject.
Given the centrality of a non-desiring (m)Other, it is possible to understand his erotic fantasizing of being killed by the Other as the ultimate sign of the (m)Other’s love, the ultimate proof of being desired by her. Haruto wants to enact his phantasm in reality not only because the sexual satisfaction of fantasizing does not suffice, but also because he might find, by undergoing the murderous act, the enjoyment that erases the lack that keep his unconscious mother-complex spinning.
Some spectator might wonder why Haruto is so fixated that a particular type of high-school girl becomes his murderer. Let us quickly note that, at the level of the image, the girl represents no one but his mother. The desire to be killed by the high-school girl is, in a certain sense, a dark erotic reversal of the desire to be loved by the mother.
Hideo Jojo’s composition stands out due to its elegant fluidity and its compelling rhythm. While the fluidity of the visual flow is function of Jojo’s rich use of spatial movement, the rhythm of To Be Killed By A High School Girl is dictated by his swift cutting. The interaction of both elements gives some moments within the narrative an impressionistic flavour and – more importantly – ensures that the spectator remains engaged throughout. The visual rhythm is, in some rare cases, supported by musical decorations.
The visuals of To Be Killed By A High School Girl are – and this not unimportant – pleasing to look at. This visual pleasure is not only function of the warm colour-design or the contrast between cold and warm colours that marks certain shots, but also due to the great lighting design (e.g. the use of flare, …etc.)
To Be Killed By A High School Girl is a highly enjoyable mystery-thriller. While Jojo’s narrative does not challenge or expand the genre, the effective interaction between his fluid composition, the great narrative structure, and the thematical exploration of trauma and perverse fantasies ensures that the film hits all the right notes and more.
Narra-note 1: His subtle seductive acts are not aimed at revealing his own romantic or sexual interest in the other, but to cause the blossoming of eros, of desire, in the female other. And is it not by entrapping their desire and feeding their fantasy of being a pristine object for him that enables them to be manipulated by him?