The Man Behind the Scissors (2005)
Nicholas Driscoll
April 26, 2007
Note: review may contain spoilers

Back when I was yet another PlayStation zombie, addicted and ever yearning for further gameplay kicks, I remember coming across a little game called Clock Tower in my voracious reading. Yet another in the huge burst of survival horror games released in the wake of Resident Evil's breakout popularity, Clock Tower had a gimmicky villain that always loomed eerily in my imagination—Scissorman, a murderous psycho who wields a gargantuan pair of scissors as his killing weapon of choice. For some reason it was always a bit scary to picture that papercraft nightmare chasing me around—and really, scissors have been a tool of terror ever since moms everywhere decried running with them and Boo Radley used one for random acts of violence. Thus, when I saw a copy of 2005's The Man Behind the Scissors or Hasami Otoko (or The Scissor Man, as the English subtitles on the film translate it), I wondered if this could be the long-in-coming big-screen adaptation.* Alas, while the titular nutcase bears the same name, The Man Behind the Scissors, based on a novel, plays a little like an extra-bloody, extra-bad Shyamalan movie—although the big, scary twist in this one is practically shooting off fireworks to get viewers to notice it early.

Story: Chika (Kumiko Aso, from Casshern and 2006's Suite Dreams) has a problem. She lives with a big, creepy man (prolific Etsushi Toyokawa, 2005's Yokai Daisenso) who has an even creepier hobby—strangling pretty, intelligent high school girls and then, as his calling card, stabbing a specially-altered pair of scissors into their necks, just above the collar bone. Chika acts as his reluctant assistant—like a shrieking Ygor to his deranged Dr. Frankenscissors, running about and gathering information on his next targets while protesting and squealing when he moves in for the kill. The police are baffled and clueless as more and more students on the dean's list move onto the dead's list, but then, when one of the scissor man's intended targets becomes the victim of a copycat attack, Chika and her wacky partner, perhaps peeved that someone is horning into their turf, start hunting down the clues to catch their fellow murderer, even while the bumbling gumshoes are slowly sniffing closer to the truth.

The Man Behind the Scissors' plot, while intriguing and different in that it actually follows the murderer from the start rather than the heroes, nevertheless has one of the more obvious big twists I have seen in a long time. I didn't know anything about this movie going in, and then fifteen minutes later I had figured out the most significant "surprise" of the film. The film is awkward in the way it tries to hide the truth, but I am glad at least that they didn't cheat—a discerning viewer can follow the clues, and the red herrings mostly make sense rather than being arbitrarily included to throw off the scent.

Other than the disappointingly obvious twist, the rest of the story is wildly uneven, ratcheting between dead seriousness and weird, dumb humor. In one scene, Chika is poisoning herself and then tossing her cookies all over the floor, and in the next the policemen are sitting around drinking in their underwear or calling each other names like a bunch of five year olds. This does increase the amusement value of the proceedings, but it is also just stoopid. Things certainly don't get better when overeager cop Isobe (played, badly, by Koji Higuchi) falls madly in love with suspect Chika on first sight for no apparent reason. Indeed, a number of characters display inhuman levels of stupidity, but it's not all their fault—at least once it was a plot hole.

Before moving on, one should never discuss The Man Behind the Scissors without at least mentioning the ending. While it is against my principles to reveal what happens, it must be noted that this film holds one of the worst endings of a thriller I have ever seen. No, everything wasn't a dream—although you might wish it was; at least then it would make more sense.

As one big plus amongst the bad, the acting of the main characters is pretty good. Etsushi Toyokawa as the scissor man simply looks sinister. He scowls and lurks with professional panache worthy of Bela Lugosi. Kumiko Aso's role as Chika is very tricky, and Aso is only partially successful; she doesn't quite have the range for the character, but she isn't terrible. Although, again, it's not all her fault—some of the blame sauce should be spread on the Foley man, who carefully edited some heavy breathing into a particular scene so that it would mismatch with her actions. Exceedingly popular Hiroshi Abe, of Trick fame, also makes a memorable appearance as "Mr. Shrink" Horinouchi, a psychiatrist who is helping the police. It's obvious how Abe found his field—his face is striking without being ugly, and his screen presence pulls the yanks the eyes of the viewer right to himself. However, he does have a bit of a taste for the scenery, and ends up chewing away before the end.

Minor characters, unfortunately, are mostly bland to terrible. Other than lovesick Isobe, the main victim girl, Yukiko, played by Mizuho Sakata, impresses with her mediocrity, and the actress playing her mother is even worse. None of them distinguish themselves with unusual or interesting acting chops.

The cinematography and directing by Toshiharu Ikeda, is equally uninspiring. Except for a few interesting shots, including one pan across the dueling perceptions of two characters and how they see Chika's apartment, much of what we have is often awkward, redundant and sometimes unintentionally funny. Ikeda seems particularly fond of the pointless flashback shot, repeatedly springing back to scenes of the schoolgirl corpses or unneeded repeat shots of key evidence. Also, occasionally the camera will close in on the face of one of the characters in what is supposed to be a dramatic exclamation point, but instead it comes off as overdone and is more likely to elicit smirks than awe.

Special effects—what there are of them—are even worse, including an amazingly awful sequence in which a man commits suicide that had me rewinding out of disbelief and amusement. I don't find suicide at all amusing, and that this was actually intended to be serious is remarkable—it is one of the more unintentionally funny death scenes that I have witnessed. (I have seen worse… Blood Freak and Shira: Vampire Samurai come to mind, among others.) Actually, all of the murders are slightly comical, the film flashing to negative just before they die off screen. The blue screen of death ain't got nothing on this. There is also a memorable sequence in which a man's head is completely bloodied before getting struck by the, um, rice cooker. Ultimately, none of the effects sequences are impressive; they have a sort of old-school seventies or direct-to-TV vibe that had me thinking this was a much older film than it is.

Music mostly consists of two themes interlaced with rather unpleasant jazz sax improv solos which seem present mostly to mask how little was actually paid to score this thing. It's like the producers ran out of money after two very simple themes, so they brought in a sax player and said, "play something kind of weird" and left it at that. Of the themes, there is the "eerie" scissor man theme, which is a repetitive tick-tock metallic clanking, and the fast-paced police theme, which is a repetitive, percussive mash that highlights any and all scenes in which the police discover or realize something important. Then, just to make things interesting, at the end of the movie the scissor man clanking theme and the police beats theme are played together so the viewer can feel creeped out and excited at the same time. Or something.

The Man Behind the Scissors is a whole lot of bad; it's like Shyamalan took a break to fly out to Japan and make his worst movie ever. If only that were the case; Ikeda doesn't seem to have even Shyamalan's more questionable talents, although perhaps I just need to see his more famous Evil Death Trap films. Yet somehow, even through the mediocrity of the cinematography, acting, music and plot, the film manages to be interesting and enjoyable, although possibly not for the intended reasons. Depending on your taste for dumb movies, this film will either having you cutting up or cutting out.

A Clock Tower movie was announced in 2006—possibly with Hilary Duff attached as one of the characters. Now that's scary.