July 15, 2007

LAST QUARTER (2004) a supernatural Chiaki Kuriyama story

(2004, Japan, Kagen no Tsuki)

Lush-looking supernatural romance starring Chiaki Kuriyama

Region 3 Hong Kong NTSC DVD (Golden Culture Entertainment)

The cheap-looking cover, of this Hong Kong release DVD, made me think I was getting a predictable romantic drama. After all, I was only getting it to catch Chiaki Kuriyama.

But as soon as the film began, I was immediately rewarded with a rich, luscious opening sequence full of entrancing images, which turn out to be a mixture of dreams and premonition, in this supernatural romance.

The story was even more attractive as it was partly shot in London and includes a look at the Tokyo scene that pays homage to English style, albeit from forty years ago. The opening of the story has Chiaki seeing her boyfriend (Hiroki Narimiya) play at a 'Mod' revival club, ‘Quadromania’. He even dresses like a Mod and rides a scooter. Not sure about the riding hat though (they are really for horse-riding, not Lambrettas)…

After Chiaki discovers that he’s been cheating on her, she runs away to a strange old house, where she meets a handsome stranger. He’s cool, ultra-cool, with long hair, playing guitar, in leather trousers… This presumably is the epitome of modern Tokyo rock star chic, and the character is played by rock star Hyde from the band L'Arc en Ciel.

The corny-sounding plot, is intentionally pointing us towards the fairy stories of Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella. But then things take a distinctly Japanese turn when she decides to elope with him to London and has an unexpected accident.

She awakes to find herself trapped in his house, alone, but she cannot leave. What's going on? Why do the lights always dim as she leaves a room? Why does she look so pale?

The story is lushly photographed, with simple special fx, of the same sort of complexity of an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think it’s all shot on video, but it looks more like a movie. The sets are simple and effective, some are so simple that they are almost symbolic, as opposed to convincing. But the dreamlike worlds portrayed are to do with ideas, rather than realism, and it all worked for me.

Not many surprises, but an enjoyable ghostly package of typical Japanese teenage romance. No sex, no kissing, just buckets of agonising longings and symbolic meaning. It’s certainly one of the better Japanese films Chiaki has starred in.

Loads more screen-grabs from the film, and Chiaki's other films, here at her shrine!

The HK DVD is letterboxed, (not anamorphic) and has good English subtitles. You can get it
here at PlayAsia, for instance.

UPDATE: Geneon also released this on DVD in the US.

July 08, 2007

GHOST HUNT (2006) fun and scary anime series

Ghost Hunt started as a successful manga

(2006, Japan)

TV anime, 25 x 25 minute episodes

This Japanese anime series is about a research team for hire, who solve mysterious hauntings. Each case is a story that lasts about 3 or 4 episodes. Each case is different to the next, keeping the series interesting from start to finish, with the characters developing nicely. It’s sometimes scary, sometimes funny, sometimes a detective story. With such a wide appeal, this could easily run to more series, or even live-action, and am surprised it hasn’t been announced on DVD in the west yet.

The opening story, set in a school, introduces klutzy schoolgirl character, Mai, to the group of ghost hunters, called Shibuya Psychic Research, named after the teenage leader, Naru Shibuya, an electronics whiz.

They are investigating a violent poltergeist, using both scientific monitoring and psychic 'sensitives' to gather clues. They then try and combat it with exorcisms, from a range of religious denominations - like shinto, catholic and buddhist. The phenomena vary from yokai, ghosts, to poltergeists - the team never know what they're going to be facing next. But usually there are lives at risk, or souls to be saved.

This series strongly reminded me of the classic The Legend of Hell House (1973), which also had an electronic approach to ghost hunting, backed up psychics. This hunch was clinched by the use of captions counting up the days into the haunting. That film also mixed ‘sensitives’ with a scientific approach to 'cleansing' an intensely haunted house.

In Ghost Hunt, Mai narrates and we often hear her thoughts of the other characters. Initially a lowly assistant, she soon finds she's not as useless to the team as she thought.

I'm sure this accessible series, mixing humour and mystery with a dose of supernatural horror, will be widely popular. The original manga are now becoming available in the US and UK, translated into English.

he original Japanese website is here... with a great splash-page of all the regular characters.

The Wikipedia page is here, with loads more detail about the story.

Ghost Hunt isn't too scary, but scary enough. If you want a really scary anime, try the three-part OVA, The Portrait of Petite Cossette, for an almost plotless descent into vividly portrayed, obsessional madness...

KOKKURI (1997) weak but sexiful ghost story

(1997, Japan, Kokkuri-San)

Region 1 NTSC DVD (Asia-Vision/Urban-Vision)

Can’t say that I enjoyed this much. The supernatural element was too slight, and the drama too low-budget. It was highly reminiscent of the Korean Whispering Corridors films, but centred on boyfriends, instead of the girls' relationships with each other. A love triangle gets mixed up in a truth game disguised as a ouija-type summoning of a spirit.

As usual the Japanese get hung up on the exact nature of the rules of the ghost-summoning, rather than talk examine their relationships and misunderstandings.

The sexual element was unusually explicit, setting this apart from most Japanese horror films. The nudity also made this a more realistic teenage drama, when most mainstream dramas barely show romantic couples touching, let alone kissing.

The dramatic ploy of having one of the girls hosting a radio show, playing recordings of distressed listeners, seemed all too far-fetched. None of the adult radio producers in the studio intervene when it’s all going wrong, and one of them is her elder sister! The use of reel-to-reel decks giveaway the fact that the film is 10 years old.

The DVD picture is quite soft, and seemed to be off an old analogue master, complete with tape creases, rather than digital faults, and the letterbox was non-anamorphic, also a sign that it’s a pre-digital master. Despite being a US release, the subtitle translations seemed to be quite loose, making the plot more confusing than it should have been.