November 01, 2009

THE VANISHED (2006) - Japanese horror that's hard on the kids


THE VANISHED
(2006, Japan, Ame No Machi)

The horror genre of 'killer kids' is popular again, with recent movies like Them (Ils), The Strangers, Orphan, It's Alive and The Children. This Japanese horror is now a few years old, but I've only just found it subtitled. Far less gory than western horrors, it adds a little more creepiness.

Starting with some convincing shocks, where a little boy is stalked by a madman with a shovel. A sack is placed over the child's head - a visual reminder of The Orphanage, but this is a misleading similarity, capitalised on by the publicity art.


The boy's body floats away from this remote village and is discovered miles downstream. An autopsy shows up some bizarre results. Gutter press journalist Sota is sent to check out the story and hype up the supernatural angle, even if there isn't one. But for the first time in his career, he sees something genuinely uncanny. Not the least of which is a corpse with the insides of what looks like yellow cheese.

Tracing the body back to a remote area in the forest, he teams up with Fumiyo, a local journalist. She takes him to one of the few families left in a severely haunted village, where the local children, aren't really children at all...


Believability is strained early on as Sota sneaks some photos of the body in the morgue, using a noisy flash camera without the attendant noticing, eben though they're in the same room. It also unfortunately looks like Sota wants naked photos of the kid, rather than of the clues. Later on, further poor staging means that the heroes fail to notice a dead body in a small room.

The bizarre situation could also do with more backstory. Where in Japanese mythology are there vampires made of cheese? It's all creepy enough, but nothing is as strong as the opening scene. The eventual ending is drawn out and failed to chill.

Toshihiro Wada doesn't make the most of his character Sato, leaving various plot points rather muddled (like his attitude to the newspaper he works for). But Yoko Maki makes Fumiyo a more believable character, unfortunately completely underused, disappearing soon after she's introduced. The actress also made a lasting impression in Sway (Yureru), and the US version of The Grudge.

The Vanished is likeable for the unusual theme, and the potential of the story rather than where it ends up. The Malaysian DVD (from PMP) is widescreen but not anamorphic. English subtitles are rather stiffly worded and felt inaccurate in many scenes. Better translations would help it considerably, and I'd certainly reassess my opinions if there was ever a release in the West. It's also out on DVD in Hong Kong (cover art pictured at top).

A trailer (including plenty of spoilers), is here on DailyMotion.

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