(2007, Japan, Ako-kuro)
This Japanese horror film felt very different, despite the familiar plot elements. The location of Okinawa, the large southern island of Japan, presents life very differently from the crowded apartments and uptight manners of Tokyo. They have legends about forest creatures, not urban myths about telephones and other gadgets. The climate is hot, the people more spread out and laid back.
After starting with a couple of solid scares, Twilight Phantom settled into a deceptively easy-going tale of young Misaki joining her husband-to-be, meeting his friends and family and settling into life in Okinawa. Their houses are less modern, but far less crowded than metropolitan life, surrounded by lush vegetation. The people are friendlier and informal with older relatives. It's a very different presentation of Japanese life.
I was settling into this attractive alternate lifestyle when one evening, someone's granny tells a ghost story. A local legend about the red-haired 'kijimuna', told round a late night fire. It's as if she's accidentally invoked a demon, as it seems to become a reality almost immediately. In a pair of extraordinary one-take scenes that horrify with their intensity and ferocity, the group of new friends find themselves facing a powerful evil...
The story then falls into a more familiar pattern, but the characters' real reactions and the naturalistic filming make it a very different experience than usual. It's also gorier than the typical Japanese ghost stories. It's as if everyone had tried very hard to avoid cliches while still sticking to the boundaries of the genre.
I'd been wanting to see this since it was first pointed out by Twitch.com under its Japanese name of Ako-kuro. Finally found it earlier this year under the misleading title of Twilight Phantom on a Malaysian DVD (cover art at top). It's a no-frills release, but has good English subtitles - available here from YesAsia. Though it's a great shame that it hasn't been picked up anywhere else... yet.
Here's a trailer on YouTube...