The way this documentary is done is genius. You wouldn’t believe them if they came right out and said they were recording the effects of a malevolent demonic force, but through carefully arranging their scenes and interview clips, the audience can’t possibly doubt what’s going on.
Jiro is an ancient, primal spirit living in a tunnel used by the the Tokyo subway. There he keeps a small shop where he uses carefully, alchemically crafted treats to lure in the unsuspecting, rob them of worldly wealth and sap their vital energy. The interviews with the victims are surprisingly consistent on that front. In fifteen minutes they’ll have spent more than $300. “I was nervous, the first time I went in,” is an extremely common comment. On film, Jiro looks like a genial old man, but everybody who meets him talks about how intimidating he is.
The apprentices in his shop are forced to massage be-tentacled, Lovecraftian horrors and complete Sisyphean tasks with avian larvae. They could go through this torture for as much as ten years before Jiro will release them. “Some of them don’t even make it a day,” the oldest son comments, on the fate of those poor buggers.
Jiro was a menace before he found his calling as a tunnel-demon, though. The documentary interviews some of his childhood friends, who talk about how he bullied them when they were young. “But we like him now,” they’re quick to assure us. Do I imagine that nervous glance toward Jiro? I think not.
The real tragedy of the horror show is Jiro’s oldest son who is trapped in the tunnel until his father dies. Jiro smiles maliciously when he talks about how his sons wanted to go to college, but he made them come work in the tunnel instead. “I hated it for the first two years,” one of the sons says. Now he’s a cowed, broken thing, quick to tell the apprentices they should listen to Jiro, prone to pine wistfully for his lost opportunities to become a speed demon, instead of a tunnel creature. By the time the film starts showing the walls slowly contracting around him, the diminishing fish stocks even as sushi vendors proliferate, the audience is transfixed by the horror of the situation.
This is no slash and stab gore-fest, but a slow, sensuous, psychological torment. Recommended to the connoisseur of food-porn and horror alike.