Kingdom of the Apes is a 2022 Japanese thriller, written and directed by Shūgō Fujii. Making his directorial debut with Living Hell (2000), Fujii gained notoriety with his recent mystery thriller Red Line Crossing (2017).

“A director of a news program was called to an emergency meeting in the boardroom of a TV station on the 27th floor. The reason for the emergency meeting was to discuss whether to air a news story he had produced on the Covid-19 vaccine. At the same time, in the basement of the TV station, the news about the Covid-19 vaccine was being re-edited due to censorship. But then an incident occurred. Suddenly, the door closed, and they could not leave the room. The program directors were baffled. Who is in charge? Who is keeping them locked up? A human drama unfolds between heaven and earth. It soon develops into a revenge drama filled with hatred…”

Kingdom of the Apes 2021

Being shot on a micro-budget, Kingdom of the Apes, at first, gives the appearance of being a reflection of this. Featuring a roster of unknown actors, frantic use of shaky cinematography as well as hard-cut editing allude to a confusing story structure that is difficult to follow at points. The simultaneous situations are cross-cut inconsistently, causing a stagnation in the progression for both that continues for some time. With some cuts being minutes apart, these scenes at points feel bare of any development – seeming pointless to cut to them in the first place. Additionally, overuse of free camera cinematography delivers an uncomfortable feeling of nausea that is difficult to ignore. The constant use borders on egregious, with little respite for those that suffer from motion sickness.

However, as Kingdom of the Apes enters its third act, this low-level film-making facade unexpectedly shatters as a tense office drama and is replaced with a thrilling story of revenge with a shocking twist. The hand-held cinematography swapped out for technically expressive camera work, detailing beautifully smooth rotary pans as well as other visually impressive techniques that offer a starkly contrasting style compared to what was displayed leading up to this point. Furthermore, the bewilderingly choppy editing also has its part to play. Revealing a denoted timeline that puts these two seemingly unrelated convoluted stories into a logical series of events, unveiling its ulterior motive is an unexpected yet organic evolution.

Kingdom of the Apes 2021

Stated as much in the opening credits, Kingdom of the Apes has no interest in calling into question the effectiveness of the recent Covid-19 vaccines. Instead, the story is poised as a what-if scenario taking advantage of the tabloid horror of an ongoing real-world event to ground its connection to the real world. The film is “a fable of Japanese society”, projecting the high tension of power games within organisations and the lengths members will go to save face with their superiors.

Protracted and monotonous by design, Kingdom of the Apes will certainly avert all expectations built during its run time and deliver an incredibly unseen twist expertly revealed (though slightly alluded to throughout). Along with the benefit of an unknown cast and excellent use of music, the film undoubtedly is a masterful representation of plot twists and purposeful misconception.

We watched Kingdom of the Apes as part of the 2022 Japan Film Fest Hamburg (JFFH) line-up

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