The Japanese Version of "The Killing of America" (1982)

The Japanese Version of "The Killing of America" (1982)

One of my favorite shockumentary films is The Killing of America. I remember the first time I saw it a few years back on YouTube — it was striking. The tone was hard-hitting, brooding, the footage was clear & often obscure, and the shock was extreme (but not bombarding, like Shocking Asia). 

Apparently that was the American version. There's another version of the movie which appears to have been the most successful edit of the film: the original Japanese version titled "VIOLENCE USA." The movie was, of course, produced by a wealthy Japanese producer named Mataichirô Yamamoto for a domestic Japanese audience. Other markets were a bonus.

The other thing about the movie though, unlike other shock documentaries, is that a team of talented fellas were involved: The movie was directed & written by Leonard Schrader, the brother of Paul Schrader. It was also overseen by a professional footage archivist, Sheldon Renan, which explains the quality of the footage we see in the movie: as most shock documentaries tend to copy & rehash older footage. The movie was also edited by somebody with an eye for novel cinematic structure / sound design: Lee Percy. It's clear this was a team effort by auteurs in their own right. That's what makes this movie stand out in the genre, regardless of the language.

But there's a huge difference between the English & Japanese versions.

The English version of the film is titled, The Killing of America. It proposes no solutions to the problem of gun violence in America. Instead, it scratches at the surface from different angles. It makes the provocative claim that the public assassination of John. F. Kennedy triggered a psychosis in American society that began the wave of gun murders we're familiar with. The movie discusses this idea with a funerary tone, like a somber requiem for a dead nation.

The Japanese version of the film is titled, Violence USA. This version is 30 minutes longer. Unlike the non-stop brutality of the English version, there are scene breaks throughout the movie featuring original footage. The purpose of these new scenes is to show you the other side of the coin in America's gun violence question: So we see happy Americans engaging in recreational sports (rollerblading / surfing / skydiving / etc); we see the Rocky Mountains via helicopter ride juxtaposed with the police helicopter in an urban landscape searching for a murder suspect; we see police officers training & preparing for their roles as gun-wielding protectors of society, in a society filled with gun-wielding people; etc. 

The narration is also completely different. Absent is Mr. Schrader's theory about JFK. Absent is all the poetic flourishes detailing the "killing of America." Absent is the ambiguity of  gun violence's origin. The Japanese narrator talks about America as if it were a truly free place, but this freedom brings about many paradoxes & dangers. The biggest paradox in American freedom is the natural right to own a gun. Violence USA directly addresses this. The movie makes it clear the 2nd Amendment is a bizarre idea (as seen by foreign eyes) and is the likely prime reason gun violence in America is out of control. 

Violence USA, with its extra footage & narration changes, also makes America seem like the kind of place that if you visit it would likely result in your murder. LOL. It's crazy but I see where the movie is coming from. The idea you get in your head is, "Wow those Americans are crazy. I better be careful. I could be shot getting off the plane!" It's like an anti-tourism film. One of the newly included scenes shows a clean-cut white kid on his bike in a suburban park going right up to a cop with a bubblegum smile & shooting him point-blank with a handgun.

So, to recap:

The English language version of The Killing of America is a dark hard-hitting movie essay detailing & suggesting provocative events / ideas about gun violence in America. It makes no direct point, instead opting to provoke conversation by scratching at the surface of the idea.

The Japanese language version, titled Violence USA, is a dark movie about gun violence in America which states outright is the result of the 2nd Amendment. It functions as a warning to Japanese moviegoers about travelling to America (without ever saying it) and also reminds viewers how good they have it at home (without ever saying it).

This is a common function of mondo movies. They rarely play well in the places they depict. The experience is more about the movie showing you something you're not familiar with, so as to compare it with your own life, and make judgments. One of the many functions of a mondo movie is downward social comparison: the ability to look at the lives of people who are falling apart, and walk away feeling better about yourself (by comparison).

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