Scrap Heaven – Review

by Miguel Douglas


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Pharmacist Saki, timid policeman Shingo and toilet-cleaner Tetsu find their lives turned upside down when their bus is hijacked by a crazed businessman. When the ride turns violent, the three strangers are forever linked by the incident. Months later, Tetsu talks Shingo into collaborating on a most unique business venture: revenge-for-hire. Anyone with a problem can come to them and they’ll take appropriate, vengeful measures. Meanwhile, Saki, disillusioned and increasingly anti-social, also wishes to take out her own revenge on society.

Scrap Heaven is quite the interesting film considering the various points it seems to address within the space of its running time. It’s a film that can be viewed as an exploration of a multitude of subjects; as a satirical look into the Japanese social construct, an advocate for anarchical behavior, and even a view on disaffected social outcasts. What makes the film work is that all these elements—albeit a little convoluted—contribute towards a film that can be as humorous as it is critical. It’s probably warranted to say that thematically, Scrap Heaven is very similar to that of another film—David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999), mainly because of its equal combination of hilarity and social critique. While Scrap Heaven obviously takes place within Japan and deals with Japanese individuals, director Lee clearly pays homage to Fincher with his tackling of important modern issues that affect the white-collar workingman and social deviants, therein presenting a universal view on the affects of social policy and justice.

Considering this, it would be unfair though to say Scrap Heaven isn’t without its own vision and purpose separate from that of Fincher’s. Director Lee is careful to analyze the state of Japanese social affairs with that of a keen eye, offering a look into a society—which in this case, could be any modern society—that advocates for the balance of social justice, but constantly shifts in how it should be administered. The characters showcased within film are not presented as stereotypical in least—in fact, they are shown as people attempting to make sense of the situation they experienced, to understand why they were involved in such a bizarre string of events. This ultimately leads down a road of revengeful entitlement—to essentially correct the wrong done to them by helping other people conduct their own revenge. Is it socially right to do so? The film never fully answers that question, but it does present a divisive view on justice within the confines of how modern society often times miscalculates its administering.

Unfortunately, the film does lose some of its strength towards the end with its added nod towards nihilism. It’s here that the film becomes separated from its amusing first half, and replaces it with a serious tone that seems oddly unwarranted. While we can understand the actions that occurred throughout the story, here they are pushed entirely over the edge for the sake of advancing the plot towards a controversial conclusion, without really giving a full picture as to why this particular action is performed at all. Its view on absolute destructiveness is not something that was entirely hinted at throughout the film, and to see it take full stride without much explanation makes it seem somewhat contrived. While films like Fight Club naturally progressed towards a similar climax—all the while still remaining humorous—Scrap Heaven strangely decides to drop humor in return for serious drama, and presents a juxtaposition that sadly doesn’t correlate well with the entirety of the film.

Overall, Scrap Heaven is still an interesting film for what it offers the viewer. While it may not have the best scripting—it often times forsakes societal statements for rambunctious humor—it still remains a film that showcases the diversity of director Sang-il Lee. It presents a befitting look into the likes of social deviancy, and equally balances it out with an intriguing cast and quirky direction that will elicit comparisons to other films, but it does offer its own unique twists to establish itself apart. Its rather dark and brooding atmosphere should please fans of such films, but Scrap Heaven is ultimately a film that, like its view on justice, is a divided and confusing matter to comprehend and digest.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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  • Chris

    Oh wow. I was always intrigued by the poster, but never really knew what Scrap Heaven was about. From your writeup, it sort of reminds me of Gravity’s Clowns (worth checking out if you haven’t) but possibly with a dash of Porno Star (aka: Tokyo Psycho). I think I’ll take a chance, and check out the film now.

    Nice review!

  • Douglas

    Thanks for the comments Chris. I would definitely say give it a watch–and let me know what you think of it too. I haven’t seen Gravity’s Clown, but if it’s anything like this, I would be interested in watching it.