June 04, 2008

KAKASHI (2001) - everyone's got a creepy SCARECROW

(2001, Japan, Scarecrow)

Not as scary as it should have been

Junji Ito’s many horror manga have also inspired the Tomie series and the wonderful Uzumaki, but this film is less well known, and I’ve not had the chance to see his original comic book version either.

In it, Kaoru travels to the remote Kozukata Village high in the mountains. She’s trying to find her brother, who in turn went there looking for his girlfriend, Izumi. Approaching the village, Kaoru turns off the main road, up a dirt-track and through a long and daunting tunnel.

(This is very similar to the start of Spirited Away, and I’m sure that in Japan a tunnel can symbolise a passage to the afterlife.)

Beyond the tunnel is a little farming village nestled in a deep valley. Even though Kaoru is missing a close relative, the local people are unfriendly, unhelpful and obsessed with an upcoming festival. They are all building scarecrows, and planting them around a huge windmill.

Kaoru visits Izumi’s parents, where she think she sees a woman in a red dress, but they warn her to leave immediately or "she won't want to leave". As the local policeman helps her investigate, she discovers that some of these scarecrows are not what they seem...

There’s a long, slow, atmospheric build-up, that's eventful but with no really effective scares for until near the end. Creepy characters in red are more usual in European horror, and there’s also a moment directly lifted from the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But this is still an unusual piece, reminiscent of, but more successful than, the similarly situated Kidan.

Director Norio Tsuruta went on to direct the third Japanese Ring, Ring 0: Birthday, which I’m very fond of, especially for the humanisation of Sadako’s character. But his more recent Premonition (Yogen) wasn't as successful.

The cast were largely unfamiliar, though the policeman had a familiar face - Yoji Tanaka also appeared as the boy's father in The Great Yokai War and Ju-On: The Grudge.

I watched Kakashi on a Hong Kong DVD (from Universe Video, cover pictured at top), and while it's still not been released in the US or UK, the HK region 3 disc can still be found here on HK Flix, for instance.

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