November 19, 2007

KIDAN (2005) - hell on Earth

(Japan, 2005)

A Japanese horror mystery drenched in Christianity

Region 3 Hong Kong DVD (from Geneon) - no English subtitles

The international title for Kidan is Inferno, which makes it sound like a firefighter action movie. But perhaps 'Hellfire' would be a better translation.

I saw the surprising trailer for this two years ago in a Twitchfilm news item, and have been itching to see it ever since. (Having seen the film, I must warn you that this trailer is full of spoilers).

Tired of waiting for a subtitled edition to get released, I bought the Hong Kong DVD which only has Chinese subs, and therefore my plot description is only very approximate.

It starts like a very traditional Japanese mystery movie. A shy research student, Satomi (Ema Fujisawa), travels north into the mountains on the trail of ancient Christian relics that may have ended up hidden in Japanese soil.

The mystery leads her to a small village in Hokkaido, where centuries ago the precious relics are supposed to have triggered a massacre. Far more recently, there was another strange occurence which begins to interest her - a case where two children went missing, a little boy and his sister, but only the little girl was was found.

Satomi meets another investigator (Hiroshi Abe), in a small church where the priest is the expert on the village's history. They also seek the help of two locals, who strongly resemble the characters of Hell Girl and her grandma.

Then a murdered man is found crucified on a nearby mountain, his eyes pecked out. But the village has been cut off by a landslide. Before his body can be studied, it disappears...

The eventual climax reminded me a little of Phantasm, rather than actual religious events - it has a creepy old lady with her grand-daughter, dwarf acolytes, and a gateway to another dimension...

Director Takashi Komatsu (Persona) builds the atmosphere in the village up very nicely, but the staging of the climax is rather literal and the setting unimaginative, saved only by the startling special effects.

The trailer had given most of the surprises away for me, but it missed out on the atmosphere, the shocks and the gore.

The cast are earnest but likeable, if a little underwhelmed by events. Wide-eyed Hiroshi Abe seems to get called into films whenever the unbelievable needs more realism. I've enjoyed him in many fantasy films, particularly in the recent comedy Bubble Fiction, and yelling out Godzilla's name in the trailers for Godzilla 2000.

The story, based on a supposedly unfilmable manga, offers a different angle on the meaning of Christianity. I'd love to see this subtitled, to find out exactly what the story infers. But it looks about as close to The Omen genre that I've seen in a Japanese film.

As an aside, I've seen many other crucifixion scenes in Japanese TV - it's obviously a fascinating image there. For example, there have been several TV episodes through the decades where Ultraman gets crucified.

Kidan has so far not been picked up for release in the west, despite being produced by the prolific horror producer Takashige Ichise, who normally manages to get international interest in his projects. Unfortunately, there are no English subtitles on the Japanese or Hong Kong DVD releases.

The soundtrack by Kenji Kawai was released on CD in Japan. Though only the closing theme makes a lasting impression.

For the curious, the trailer still resides way down in the addictive Gomorrahy Trailer Park... but remember that I said SPOILER ALERT!

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