Taking a taxi should be a reliably safe to get from point A to point B and once you settle the serviceable transaction with payment, you can forget you ever saw that taxi driver again. But what if that taxi driver follows you home, obsesses over you, and has psychotic plans to take your life as well as his own? One Tokyo cabbie has those very inclinations toward the beautiful women. These women intoxicate his severe guilt over a past personal tragedy involving the merciless murder of his wife. He scours his passenger pool for the perfect beauty to be his closing opus, a gift to society that dealt him the same hand and will take her life as a maniacal masked killer with a blade before he turns the blade on his own neck.
From the director of “Gun Woman” and “Karate Kill” comes the latest gore-soaked, nudity-laden, psychotronic grindhouse picture from Tokyo filmmaker Kurando Mitsutake. Labeled as a Japanese giallo film, the writer-director Mitsutake pulls inspiration from one of most influential and prolific Italian giallo filmmakers ever, the late Lucio Fulci, and stylizes his idolizing film with his own proclivity for flair. The 2020 released film is a thirst trap of the subgenre upon reading the heavily enticing description and its basic but effective cover art of a leather glove and jacket cladded masked maniac holding tightly onto a half-naked woman, almost in an embracing manner rather than a malice one. Sex and blood sell and “Maniac Driver” doesn’t disappoint but what about the story? What drives the killer from one woman to the next and does it all make sense? “Maniac Driver’s” title suggests not, and I believe Kurando Mitsutake felt the same way when writing the script, produced by “After Life” and “Paster Shepherd” producer Mami Akari under the Akari Pictures banner.
Titling the story around the maniac driver binds the film solely to the cab driver, much in the same way William Lustig’s “Maniac” focuses on Joe Spinell’s spiraling madness and scalping mutilations, and we’re pretty much left with the driver’s innermost thoughts, about his process, about his reasons, and about his plans. Essentially, the maniac driver drives the narrative with a contemplative fare. Tomoki Kimura has surpassed the challenge with a pendulum crazed performance sought to not only express his derangement but can also infect the viewers with the character’s warped mind. Kimura keeps his expression stoic and sour in a role that barely requires him to speak as we mostly hear prosy, abstract, and murderous inner thoughts. In regard to the women the driver stalks and involves himself sleazily with, Kurando Mitsutake goes the JAV actress route and is familiar with as having the alluring Asami star pretty much naked through the entirety of “Gun Woman.” With adult actresses, Mitsutake receives uninhibited support for the victimized characters the maniac driver fantasizes over and kills as well as Mitsutake’s satirical whims in exploiting the subgenre’s penchant for gratuitous flesh. Adult starlets from softcore actress Saryû Usui (“Sex Detective Hatenashi”) to the hardcore Ai Sayama (“Date with a Busty Nymph”), Ayumi Kimito (“Love Kimomen”), and SOD (Soft on Demand) Create’s Iori Kogawa (“One Wife + 10 Husbands) add a little titillation with gratuitous exposure, bondage, and fornication to the max.
“Maniac Driver” paves its own neo-giallo path that swerves away from the traditional calling cards. Instead of a typical Italian murder-mystery, Mitsutake intentionally divulges the killer cab driver with a delusional hunger and fate. All the other hallmarks of a giallo killer are there in a Fulci tribute form with leathery glove hands, a gleaming blade, a masked face, and a killer who makes a duck-like sound that’s far more menacing than comical. “Maniac Driver” also pulls from other inspirations, such as Lustig’s “Maniac” as well as Martin Scorcese’s “Taxi Driver” with Tomoki Kimura channel his best Robert De Niro impression with the iconic You Talkin’ To Me line. Behind the whole ghastly facade and polychromatic style, entrenched is a theme of survival’s guilt that leads the cab driver to the point of no return. Severely injured and helpless to save his wife from a crazed killer, he’s wrought with putting forth into the world exactly what was taken from him in the same fashion, but how the deeper we spiral with and into his derangement, piecing together his mental episodical puzzle might not be so easily pegged. Mitsutake’s seemingly straight forward narrative is a blindsiding blade to the throat when looking in the opposite direction, expecting a different outcome, and when the principal character is kept to his innermost thoughts, viewers are treated with only the maniac’s disenchantment of life. The curveball is more than welcome despite all evidence being in plain view, but with the bizarre fiendishness, schizo-universe, and the T&A, to see clear through it all is impossible, especially when Mitsutake really goes off the rails with the maniac driver’s fantasies that mesh seamlessly with reality. Scenes with Iora Kogawa and Tomoki Kimura are intolerably hazy as the actors engage coquettishly as an exquisite, kimono dressed female passenger and a public transportation service man peering his eyes through the review mirror and this leads to an explicit one-on-one encounter that includes some bondage as well as a Iaido showdown with swords drawn. Through Mitsutake’s various closeups and depth-shots, sprinkled with tight up shots to emphasize body parts and to create an oppressive world, “Maniac Driver” ebbs and flows that sort of satirical, aggrandized chaos to make light of the oversexualization, as skirts hike up while running and exposed chest flop out underneath tightly bound tops, and the sheer madness of a broken mortal man. “Maniac Driver” is an uber giallo of sleaze and psychosis, a steady ride of burning yearning, and is gory where it counts.
To be honest with you, I thought I’d never see a ReelGore Releasing again. When speaking with Cult Epics founder Nico B., who launched the label with producer Steve Aquilina (“Violent Shit: The Movie”) in 2016, I had asked the popular curator of cult cinema whether he would continue with banner that sought to specialize in the release of extreme, violent horror after the releases of the ItsBlogginEvil generally well received “The Orphan Killer” and “The Curse of Doctor Wolfenstein?” The answer I received was a flat out no from Nico B. because, simply, the label didn’t generate enough profit. Well, lo and behold, ReelGore Releasing has been resurrected and the blood is flowing once again with a pair of new titles with “Manic Driver” being one of them. Though Nico B. has confirmed no involvement with the releases, it’s still great to see the label back in action again. “Maniac Driver” is released on a ReelGore Releasing AVC encoded Blu-ray, a BD25, and presents the Mitsutake film in 1080p, high definition and a 2.35:1widescreen aspect ratio. Despite heavily saturating to a blur scenes with brilliant, primary coloring, familiar to the giallo subgenre, the overall details are quite pleasant and palpable. Mitsutake utilizes different lighting and shadowing techniques to create different atmospherics but never seems to inherently kill the textures as they maintain a sharp, tactile presence. The Japanese DTS-HD 5.1 audio track, with forced English subtitles, is vibrant with an 80’s inspired blend of synth and riff-rock. Japanese dialogue is strong, clear, and innately clean with the digital recording, balanced by an error free and aptly timed English subtitles. “Maniac Driver” has a robust, yet sometimes overelaborated, sound design that outputs nicely through the side channels. The killer’s leather glove sounds can be overkill with every scene being loused with the individual stretches of the fabric while the energy-thumping engine combined affixed shots around the tire and grill is a powerful effect of the cab driver’s routine hunting method. The release also comes with French and Spanish subtitles. Bonus features include a making of featurette with interviews with the cast and crew, an audio commentary with director Kurando Mitsutake, photo slideshow, and the trailer. There are no stinger scenes during or after the credits. The physical appearance sheaths the 25GB disc inside a sleek red Blu-ray snapper case with reversible cover art that has two alternate posters on the inside. The film is not rated, region free, and has a run time of just under 75 minutes. “Maniac Driver” is no passenger in the giallo subgenre; the Kurando Mitsutake might be a bundle of homages and inspirations but takes the wheel of the Japanese sexploitive-giallo gas guzzler with deranged brutality.