January 05, 2007

FORBIDDEN SIREN (2006) interminable mystery

FORBIDDEN SIREN (2006, Japan, Sairen)
Region 3 Singapore DVD (Innoform Media)

If you hear the siren, don't go outside...

Thanks to Twitch news signposting a new online DVD store for releases from Singapore, we now have another way of getting SE Asian releases with English subtitles on. I'd been waiting to see Forbidden Siren, having seen an interesting-looking trailer, also highlighted by Twitch.

Usually you see a trailer for a US film, and a couple of months later you get to see it. With Japanese films, the wait can be over a year, until a US or UK distributor picks up the title and releases a translated DVD. English subtitles are rare on Japanese releases, not everything gets released in Hong Kong or Korea, and only half of Thai DVDs has English subtitles on. So adding Singapore into the mix gives us our first opportunity to watch, and understand, Forbidden Siren and Dorm, for example.

Of course, after a long build up, it doesn't mean to say the film is going to be any good...

Japanese poster art

Forbidden Siren is based on the PS2 video game of the same name, that was released in 2003 and has already spawned a sequel game. You don't need to have played the game to watch the film, but if you have, I suspect the film won't have any further surprises in store.

The film opens promisingly enough, with a prologue alluding to sudden mass disappearances like on the Marie Celeste. We then see an atmospheric incident on 'Yamijima Island' in 1976, where rescuers cannot find any islanders to evacuate during a rainstorm.

Flash forward to modern day, where a small family is leaving Tokyo to come and stay on the island for health reasons. A widower and his teenage daughter and young son discover the island to be full of unfriendly locals, where the standard of living looks exceedingly like a boot sale. I mean, who buys Barbra Streisand on vinyl anymore?

As they explore the island, mysteries appear by the bucketload, a bizarre insect, a disappearing pet, locals warning about mermaids, sirens, danger in the forest and a mysterious figure clothed in red. The actual siren itself is atop a tower of steel pylons, swathed in rags - an ominous landmark of an almost Wicker Man stature.

All of this fired my imagination nicely, but the actual story turned out to be very disappointing and underwritten. I was expecting mermaids, or a supernatural solution to the Marie Celeste, all sorts of outcomes, but no.

The story wasn't helped by the director using tricksy speed-ups and slow-downs, making some sequences look more like a trailer for a US comedy.

Some imaginative and disorientating wide-angle shots were very welcome. But he was also fond of fast jump-cutting during some scenes. Why use one shot when you can use ten?

Things got worse by the climax where there's a good twenty minutes of lightning flashes to assault the eyes. You know when you're in a cinema watching a long night scene and it suddenly cuts to daytime? Your eyes are almost forced to close - well there's a long, long period where the inter-cutting between light and dark tries very hard to close your eyes.

The climax is preceded by a very long and stupid episode where someone is chased around a house by a man randomly waving a shovel. What would you do if you were in a house with a killer? Well, I'd leave, personally. It takes ages before the heroine figures it out. It's a very frustrating and pointless moment.

The climax is unexciting, confusing, drawn out, lacking in surprises and with a really feeble final payoff.

To cap it all, the horror and violence never cranks up beyond mild. It's so tame in fact, it could almost be a 12 certificate or even a PG. To succeed its promise, it should have aimed for far weightier scares.

At least the film doesn't fall back on a Sadako-type horror cliches, but instead uses a more recent cliche which is becoming over-familiar...

The music score was good, but became over-dramatic compared to the action onscreen. The cast were good but not sufficiently stretched.

I was surprised to see that director Yukihiko Tsutsumi had also made 2LDK (2002) - an amusing and bloody flatmate-from-hell movie. Shockingly, he's just had a big hit in Japan with Memories of Tomorrow (Ashita no kioku) that has actor Ken Watanabe struggling with a bad onset of Alzheimer's disease (this is not to be confused with a 2004 movie from New Zealand with the same name). I had been looking forward to it, but am now wary of films from the same director!

A scene from Memories of Tomorrow (2006)

Fans of the PS2 game may be curious about the film, but I can't honestly recommend it to horror fans, unless they want something to watch that a 12-year old can also endure.

The Japanese and Thai DVD releases have no English subtitles on them. But this Singapore release has well-translated well-timed English subs, clear multi-channel audio, a 16:9 anamorphic widescreen transfer, and three trailers too. Check out MovieXclusive for the other titles from Singapore that you can pick up, I'll certainly use them again.

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