Battle Heater Kotatsu Review (1989)

Battle Heater Kotatsu Review (1989)

English Title Battle Heater Kotatsu
Japanese Title Batoru hîtâ
Kana Title バトルヒーター
Director Joji Iida
Release Date 1989
Distributor Shochiku

If you’ve spent any amount of time in Japan you’ll be familiar with the kotatsu. That wonderful invention that is little more than a heated table, but as a character in Battle Heater Kotatsu states “is absolutely the best heater in winter”. Between the heated toilet seat and kotatsu, Japan really is the land of heated wonders. Until of course those objects want to eat you. Because what else is horror for but to turn comforts such as showers, phones and heaters in to nightmares?

Battle Heater Kotatsu begins with two repair agents Furuchi and Hama scouring a junk yard for discarded electronics to fix. Furuchi can hardly believe his luck when he comes across a Kotatsu to put in his dodgy boarding room. Things soon take a turn for the worse however when, upset at being discarded, the kotatsu comes to life and begins eating its way through the oddball inhabitants of his apartment building.

Such a premise sounds ridiculous, and to be clear, it is. But Battle Heater has more to back it up than American takes on the ‘appliances gone wild’ genre like Death Bed and Death Spa. The film opens with a comparatively straight description of tsukomogami. As the voiceover describes “You must not despise old things. As time goes by, they become infused with spirits. Sometimes they will come to life. Things have witnessed people’s lives and deaths, and shared people’s sorrow and joy…”

Popular tsukumogami include; kasa-obake, mokumokuren and itanmomen, a possessed umbrella, screen door, and roll of cotton, respectively. So how does a kotatsu fit? Well, given that it’s an electrical object, it doesn’t fit with an Edo description of a tsukumogami, which traditionally need to have survived for a hundred years before becoming animated beings. Despite that, as farcical a film as Battle Heater Kotatsu is, it’s actually one of the best depictions of tsukumogami in film. Not to mention, is a possessed kotatsu really any sillier than a certain haunted video tape?

Battle Heater Kotatsu

The Kotatsu joins the Hyakki Yagyo Emaki.

Battle Heater Kotatsu is the theatrical debut of joji Iida, who surprisingly later went on to direct the first of the Ringu sequels, Rasen. Whilst Rasen is a relatively straight forward take on the horror genre, Battle Heater Kotatsu instantly brings to mind Hausu, Beetlejuice and Hong Kong horror films from the period such as Mr Vampire. The mood is constantly silly, but there’s also an intentional superficiality to the film with its crayon colour scheme and fog machines inexplicitly present in every scene.

The film lets you know what to expect pretty much off the bat. The film’s first scene required a truck to flip over; so upon being told that it would be too expensive to film director Joji opted to use a toy truck instead. The effect is terrible, but by the time your mind has registered how bad it looks, the wheel of the real truck enters frame and crushes the fake one that just performed the stunt in its place.  This kind of inventiveness is packed in to the first twenty minutes of the film, and although it lessens somewhat as the film continues there’s still impressive matte work, optical effects and a practical effects throughout.

The offbeat nature is also reflected in the film’s characters. This includes an old couple who don’t want to inconvenience anyone with their suicide, an adulterous woman with the torso of her recently murdered husband in a bucket, and a punk band that occasionally break in to musical numbers. What does this have to do with the murderous kotatsu? Well, nothing at all really, but if you’re a fan of films like Hausu you’ll enjoy the eclectic approach to storytelling.

Battle Heater Kotatsu displays the best of what a debut film can be. There’s a youthful energy to the film and a creative solutions in many of the areas the film could have fallen short.  Director Joji Iida also uses the opportunity to pay respect to his horror favourites. There’s a Jason Voorhees mask hung on the wall of one of the characters, one of the punks has his face slammed in to a box of pins and literally becomes a pinface. Not to mention, the lead character Furuichi played by Pappari Kawai is named after the Italian godfather of gore, Lucio Fulci. In fact, almost every character is named after a famous director, but luckily the Japanese method of Romanization keeps it from coming across as obnoxious.

battle-heater-kotatsu-gif

If I have any major complaints about the film it’s that given the sizeable cast, the kotatsu really doesn’t kill very many people. Now, death scenes don’t make for a good movie, but in a film with a ‘splatstick’ style such as this, the lack of inventive murders sticks out. The biggest issue however, is that for a comedy horror, the film isn’t particularly funny. The ways in which the film tries to be funny are at least creative, but nevertheless it does take away from the film as the jokes fall flat fairly often.

All in all, it’s surprising that Battle Heater Kotatsu hasn’t earned itself a similar cult following to other favourites such as Hausu or Basket Case. Constantly inventive, and with a plastic reality style of other beloved 80s horror films Battle Heater Kotatsu is a prime candidate for rediscovery. Again, if you’re someone looking for another Hausu, this is probably as close as you’re going to get.

Where to watch Battle Heater Kotatsu
<Battle Heater Kotatsu can be found on DVD on Amazon.

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Craig Hatch
Craig Hatch 40 posts

<p>Horror Japan is Craig Hatch, a Brit currently living in Tokyo, Japan. Horror Japan is a project that aims to review and collate media from all aspects of Japanese horror culture.</p>

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Editor review

Rating
3.5/5

3.5

Average
3.5
Summary

All in all, it’s surprising that Battle Heater Kotatsu hasn’t earned itself a similar cult following to other favourites such as Hausu or Basket Case. Constantly inventive, and with a plastic reality style of other beloved 80s horror films Battle Heater Kotatsu is a prime candidate for rediscovery. If you’re someone looking for another Hausu, this is probably as close as you’re going to get.