Color, 2000, 104m. / Directed by Katsuhito Ishii / Starring Masatoshi Nagase, Yoshio Harada, Tadanobu Asano, Keisuke Horibe, Akemi Kobayashi, Yoshinori Okada
Synapse (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD5.1

A film designed to its core as an international cult film, Party 7 tears right out of the gate with colorful splashes of anime mixed with English-friendly credits and whiplash-inducing shifts in plot and characters. Director Katsuhito Ishii cut his teeth on commercials, and the limited attention span shows throughout as he giddily swerves through the dark, dilapidated Hotel New Mexico where a motley assortment of characters indulge in their most extreme, sometimes fetishistic instincts. The catalyst for all this misbehavior is Miki (Mystery Train's Nagase), a yakuza wannabe who decides to escape his life of crime by hiding out with a stash of his bosses' money. The "7" of the title refers to our hero and other souls who wander into the hotel, which is overseen by the unique Captain Banana (Harada), a peeping tom who likes to dress up in costumes and spy on his guests. Also indulging in this pasttime is Okita (Asano), who gets an extra charge when Miki's sugar-daddy-marrying, trout-lipped ex-girlfriend Kana (Kobayashi) turns up to collect on an old debt; toss in a hitman, a mob boss, and lots of surrealism, and you've got a strangely ingratiating entry in the New Japanese cult canon.

If the synopsis above sounds like a Japanese crime take on Paul Bartel's Private Parts, well, that's not too far off the mark, though this is actually more daffy and sweet-natured than one might expect. The kinkiness inherent in the premise is played down in favor of a pop-culture cool vibe, with quirky characters and oddball cutting dictating the bizarre flow of the story. All of the actors do well with their parts, and thankfully this doesn't devolve into an in-your-face screaming orgy like many stabs at modern midnight movie fare. The animation and costume designs are also intriguing, and while the visual scheme tends to rely heavily on that murky, green-hued look that's come to plague many Hollywood productions in recent years, Ishii thankfully injects it with a few colorful cutaways and odd bits of visual business, not the least of which is the Captain Banana suit itself. A sweet and tasty party film, this should find a happy home with viewers looking for something a little different.

Synapse's ongoing library of Asian titles has certainly been eclectic during the history of the DVD format, ranging all the way from low-budget zombie chic films like Stacy to undiscovered '60s landmarks like Horrors of Malformed Men. God only knows exactly where Party 7 fits into the grand scheme of things, but the company has rolled it out for American viewers with a lot of bells and whistles. The anamorphic transfer looks excellent (not surprising for a film of a relatively recent vintage) and the 5.1 audio pops and zings exactly where it should, while the optional English subtitles seem fine to these eyes, at least. Extras include a 16-minute interview with the director, who chats with one of the film's more memorable props while covering the film's genesis and its placement among his body of work, which also includes other oddities like The Taste of Tea and the memorably-titled Shark Skin Man and Peach-Hip Girl. A 20-minute making-of featurette is exactly what you'd expect, basically a long press kit-style piece combining on-set interviews with some choice footage of the director shooting a few scenes. Other extras include a brief alternate ending, a complete storyboard version of the film clocking in at over an hour (shades of Peter Jackson) that most viewers won't survive for more than ten minutes, and a slew of promotional material including two trailers, two TV spots, and a teaser.

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