Jigoku no Hanazono: Office Royale 地獄の花園 Director: Kazuaki Seki (2021) [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]

Jigoku no Hanazono: Office Royale   Hell’s Garden Film Poster

地獄の花園  Jigoku no Hanazono

Release Date: May 21st, 2021

Duration: 102 mins.

Director: Kazuaki Seki

Writer: Bakarhythm (Screenplay), 

Starring: Mei Nagano, Alice Hirose, Rina Kawaei, Nanao, Miyuki Oshima, Eiko Koike, Masanobu Katsumura, Tomomi Maruyama, Kenichi Endo, Satoru Matsuo, Win Morisaki, 

Website IMDB

” In every world there exists factions. Female office workers are no different.”

And so begins Jigoku no Hanazono: Office Royale, one of the most fun cinematic experiences of the year. Imagine transposing the world of yankees and sukeban onto that of office ladies (OL) and you get this fourth-wall breaking film as it draws directly from and playfully critiques the delinquent manga genre that have proven so popular that many a film franchise has been built off them.

So, even if the fights lack grit, the film adds more colour, comedy and gusto to its good-natured tongue-in-cheek references to Terrifying Girl’s High School where female brawlers who display the guts of Gachiban characters get caught in epic conflicts akin to Crows, and the hot-headed ladies do hand-to-hand like High and Low, before everything ends in an epic beat down like Bebop High School. Forgive that last paragraph, I just wanted to get the references in there!

As awesome as all of this sounds, our main character, and the films narrator, Naoko Tanaka (Mei Nagano), is not one for fisticuffs. If you had to categorise her, it would be a “normal” girl who likes to go to cafes and watch dramas and just do a good job. And maybe catch a boyfriend, but she’d only tell her best friends that! What about the not-so-normal girls?

Naoko’s workplace is divided between factions run by fighters like Andoh the Demon (Nanao) who dominates R&D, Mad Dog Shiori (Rina Kawaei) who reps Sales, and Etsuko the Beast (Miyuki Oshima) in Manufacturing. This fearsome trio and their mobs are regularly rumbling UNTIL(!) a new OL named Ran (Alice Hirose perfectly  embodying a cocky lone hero) enters town and she proves to be the baddest battler on the block as she beats the aforementioned characters and the factions all come under her influence.

JIGOKU NO HANAZONO STILL 7
©2021 “Jigoku-No-Hanazono”Film Partners

In a strange turn of events, the ultra-charismatic Ran becomes Naoko’s best friend and they do things normal OL in order to get to know each other. They visit cafes together to eat the newest cakes on the menu, go shopping, and chat during their free time but what Naoko doesn’t realise is that Ran’s presence makes their company a prime target for various gangs of office ladies from all over Japan, some of whom intend to use Naoko as a way to get at Ran which sets up a high stakes battle. However, more twists are in store!

This comes from Kazuaki Seki, a director who previously worked on music videos for musicians like Gen Hoshino, Perfume and Sakanaction. He brings to life an original script from comedian-turned-screenwriter/actor bakarhythm (who makes an appearance in this film as a section chief). Seki’s eye for visuals is on point as he uses bright candy colours in high saturation to capture the feel of a comic book to provide the perfect tone for a film where outlandish characters are whaling on each other with fists and office implements in scenery destroying fights.

The characters look perfect as they have all the delinquent affectations, from the long skirts of sukeban and sukajan that are added over modified OL uniforms. At its most extreme, there are S&M uniforms, cross-dressing, and high fashion that will raise some eyebrows. My favourite character is Reina Onimaru. Eiko Koike looks god-like with platinum blonde hair, dyed eyebrows, and an imperious attitude that had me in awe of her presence. High impact!

Office Royale Eiko Koike

All the performers are pitch perfect as they inhabit their costumes with confidence and embrace the madness of battle. It is amusing to see them speaking the criminal dialects and moving with the same swagger as delinquents are often depicted as doing and these ladies harass men in a funny turn-the-tables satire of the way female characters are often treated in offices and delinquent manga.

Adding to the comedy is the incongruity of the settings and what is happening, the way nobody in the office bats an eyelid to the chaos, and the sense that nobody gets hurt. It is reminiscent of Capcom’s hugely enjoyable beat ’em up Power Stone as these people can bounce back for another brawl!

The fights are frequent (far more so than the recently released serious film Hydra and The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill) and they are often hype affairs involving either musou-level crowds or one-on-ones. Rock music at the outset of a confrontation sets the tone for a street fight where butterfly knives fly out of designer handbags or an office stairwell will see an ambush. Shakey cam, CG, destructible scenery, and editing help sell the fights and make up for a lack of fighting ability of some of the cast, all of whom are commendable because they are still throwing themselves into the melee with high energy.

JIGOKU NO HANAZONO STILL 1Battle

Supporting all of this spectacle is a rock-solid script from bakarhythm who has some stone-cold funny scene set-ups and lines from the characters that play off the incongruity of everything. As the ladies go about their business faxing things or heading to a department store like Lumire, a battle will erupt Ran will cockily say something along the lines of, “You need to die quickly before the stores close.” Every scene seems perfectly written and shot and holding everything together is  Naoko, played to cute perfection by Mei Nagano, whose narration consistently breaks the fourth wall as she talks about the mechanics of delinquent manga and how her story is falling into all of the clichés. This self-awareness is the nudge-and-the-wink that allows the viewer to enjoy the satire more. At one point, the film grinds to a halt for Raina Onimaru’s introduction and it is done via a reference to bakarhythm’s own flip-board neta  style (complete with funny illustrations). I think it’s fair to say that he is a master of the craft of comedy.

There is definitely a video game feel to this as the character introductions (complete with on-screen text) and their unforgettable looks and moves dominate the screen and it makes for a fun experience that acts as a perfect counterpoint to the more serious battle movies out there and a great comedy time.

Jigoku no Hanazono: Office Royale played as part of the New York Asian Film Festival 2021

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