eastern

Ring(u) * Hideo Nakata * 1998

What do you get when you mix The Blair Witch Project, Tesis, Videodrome, Odisjon/Audition and a bit of David Lynch? Indeed, a Japanese cult-horror. I had never heard of this film until last november when the boyfriend of my youngest sister told me about it. In the meantime it seems that “Ringu 2” and “Ringu 0” (which chronologically is supposed to be seen before this one) and on top of all, “Ringu” (just “Ring” on international dvds by the way) has been remade in America as “The Ring” and this US-version will have its cinema-premiere in the Netherlands coming Thursday (13/2/03). According to the critics, the American version is as good as the original and the word says that this is the most frightening film since the first Blair Witch. Well then.

“Ringu” is about a videotape-curse. People who see a certain video get a phonecall immediately after and they hear that they have only one week to live. This becomes a story to scare friends at school, but a tv-reporter is going to check out this story when two youngsters die with a horrible expression on their faces a week after they are said to have seen the film. Quite rapidly she finds a videotape on a holiday-resort, watches it, gets the call and asks her ex-husband to help her out to solve the mystery. He also sees it, doesn’t receive a call, but does get the weird visions that the watchers of the tape get in their last week. Then the search for the origin leads to a young girl who was daughter of a strange woman with psychic powers. The little girl could wish people dead and when she was murdered by her father, a curse came forth from her death.

The film reminded me of the Spanish “Tesis” because of the hunt for a killer-videotape by experts on the plane of video. Also the cult-film “Videodrome” has a similar idea as “Ringu”, videos take over the lifes of their victims. “Odisjon/Audition” I only added because this is also a film in Japanese as is “Ringu”. Then “Ringu” is supposed to be extremely frightening without gruesome images, like in “The Blair Witch”. This is partly true. There indeed are some quite heavy scenes in this film, but still I have to see my first real scary film. Further the film is quite dark and the video-images are used a bit as in Lynch’s “Lost Highway”. Also the dark drones add to the effect giving “Ringu” a nice atmosphere.

All in all though I didn’t like “Ringu” too much. It is nice, but not overtly original and definately not as scary as people say. Still a film that you want to see if you like horrors without thousands of liters of blood and also if you like a dark atmosphere in a film.

Phörpa * Khyente Norbu * 1999

the cup

I recently saw a documentary about children who fled from Tibet to seek refuge in Tibetan monastries in India. This film opens with a similar story. Then the viewer follows the inhabitents of one of these monasteries. Young men are trained to become good monks, but some of them are in the ban of the game of soccer. The world cup is played and in the nearest village the games are watched. Some of the monks sneak out to watch the games at night, but of course they are caught. Eventually they arrange that the final can be watched at the monastery. As you may expect this story is intermingled with a story about a boy coming to his (Buddhistic) senses and traditional Buddhists getting acquinted with the modern world. Nice film.

Odishon * Miike Takashi * 1999

audition

Japanese films seem to get some more attention in alternative circles. This film got good critics overall as I remember, but still it took a while before I saw it. “Odishon” (better known by the english title “Audition”) is a film about a man whose wife died 7 years ago and who lives with his son. He is the second man in a film-business and as his son starts to get an interest in girls, the man feels a growing need for a new woman in his life as well. With his companion he sets up an audition for a film which he can also use for picking out a possible wife. Immediately after seeing the photo of Yamazaki Asami, Shigeharu Aoyama feels attracted to her. However Asami doesn’t get the main part in the film, Aoyama tries to keep the contact and eventually things seems to go in a direction that he hoped for. Then this nice drama makes a violent switch…

Asami turns out to be an abused girl with extremely violent fantasies and an equally grim sense of humour. Not knowing whether Aoyama dreams or not the viewer gets exposed to some of the most explicit and gruesome torturers that I have ever seen on a tv-screen. Needles pinned in the most painfull places (chest and face), feet cut of with a wire, images that will deeply disturb many.

So, in the end I don’t even know if I liked this film or not. It is original and it is good, but like the “ear-scene” from “True Romance” I definately think that this is a few steps too far.

Kunpan * Tanit Jitnokul * 2002

According to the back of the box this is the Tai reaction to “Gladiator” and the film has “massive battle scenes”, but that was not the reason for me picking it out. Also I doubt that people who like “Gladiator” will automatically like this film. It is far too strange! The film is about a young man whose father was executed after failing to bring an order of the king to a proper end. The boy gets an aduction and follows his father as a leader in the army. He is ordered to knock down a rebelion, succeeds and gets all the glory. Before, he had married a beautiful girl, but a rival marries her in the time that he is away. Coming back, the frustrated Kaew (who has received the name “Kunpan” for his deeds) looses his mind over this fact and turns to black magic. This eventually helps him to become a good man again.

The film is largely a drama where two lovers can’t reach eachother, later do, but loose eachother again. Then jalousy and revenge arise. Here and there there are indeed battle-scenes showing the great leadership of Kaew and his father and at the end Kaew’s son, but don’t hire this film for these few short scenes alone! Then there are very strange and sometimes dark scenes about rituals and magical actions and you get to see how magic was used in battles.

A strange mix of different genres, not totally convincing, but surely not disapointing. Spoken in Tai by the way.

Kansen * Masayuki Ochiai * 2004

infection

Japanese horror is getting more and more popular. Each and every film is compared to the first and most famous films in the genre that came to the west, “The Ring” (“Ringu”) and “The Grudge” (“Ju-On”). Unfortunately, quite a few of the films are actually nothing much more than copies of these films. Dark and gloomy films without the American horror effects, but a ‘story’ about a curse or some supernatural entity. Of course the same happens with this film and especially when I saw the cover I thought of yet another Jap-film in a popular fashion. But… things are not always what they seem! Actually “Kansen” is quite a relief in the flow of Japanese horror films. Not that it is completely original or totally unlike the popular predecessors, but at least it is somewhat different.
The film begins wonderfully with some kind of “Riget”/”Kingdom” style and story. Weird things happen in a hospital. There are only a few docters, just a handfull of patients and just six rooms. The patients are strange, the docters overworked and on top of all, some strange decease comes creeping in. This results in some gory scenes that we are not used to from Japanese horror, but still “Kansen” didn’t become an American slasher-horror with fright-effects. The atmosphere is built up nicely, (still compare it to Lars von Trier’s “Riget”) and at the end comes a total outburst of crazyness. A bit too much for me, because the end is a bit too typical, but the film in total is an entertaining Japanese horror that is not entirely like other films in the genre.

Kakashi * Norio Tsuruta * 2001

I didn’t know this film, but I was caught by the beautiful cover of a cheap dvd-version that I saw. I have seen other Japanese films recently and was curious about this one. The director proved to be the same as who made “Ringu 0” which I haven’t seen, but the story was interesting enough to see how this would be.

A “Kakashi” is a scarecrow and is the name of a festival in a small village where the film plays. Kaoru goes to find her missing brother and the trace leeds to a small village called Kozukata. Most inhabitents seem not too happy with Kaoru but she persists in her quest to find her brother. The village is preparing the anual scarecrow festival which proves to be a festival to raise the dead. A scarecrow (or any human figure) is suppose to contain a soul and/or the soul of a dead person. With the festival some will try to regain their loved ones by drawin their souls into a scarecrow. The village seems to be full of ‘living’ scarecrows…

Like “Ringu” a moody horror without the splatter, but with a nice dense and dark atmosphere. Not brilliant, but the Japanese horrors do have something nice about them. Especially on dvd by the way, because a lot of the atmosphere comes from constant subsonic frequencies from your speakers!

Ju-On: the grudge 2 * Takashi Shimizu * 2003

Ju-On: the grudge 1 is the better kind of Japanese horror, a Ringu but then scary. Now that there is an American version of this film, but filmeditions of Ju-On (there are also two TV Ju-On’s) are for sale cheaply, so I also got number two. It is alright, but by far no number one. A group of horrormakers goes to shoot a documentary in the house where part one plays and of course they fall under the curse. The boy is more prominent now, but I will not say more. The film is not as surprising as part one, but knowing too much will still spoil the fun. The film is alright when you have seen part one, but maybe it is better to only see that one. <5/1/05><2>

Ju-On * Takashi Shimizu * 2002

the grudge

The cover says “from the makers of Ringu (The Ring)”, but in fact the story is of Hiroshi Takahashi who wrote the story of the original Ringu, but as far as I know, the director of “Ju-On” had nothing to do with any of the Ring-films. Anyway, I suppose most of you know at least the first Ringu? Of course I am not talking about the American remake. Ringu was said to be the most frightening film ever and even though the atmosphere is indeed extremely pressing in comparison to Western horrors, I didn’t run out of the room in a fright. But didn’t you too love that scene at the end where Sadako crawls out of the television screen?!? Well in that case, Ju-On is at least 5x scarier than Ringu, because there are several scenes like the one I described from Ringu. Here and there the films are a bit too much alike, but Ju-On is definately very dark, pressing and pretty scary. Like in other Japanese horrors, the atmosphere is mostly created by the sound, so be sure to watch this on on DVD. Deep rumbling, weird sounds, vocal tricks combined with disturbing images, but not much blood. This sure is my kind of thriller/horror. Shimizu even managed to give me goose-flesh a few times. Maybe more of awe than of fright, but the atmosphere is so great!
Minor point: there is not too much story about Ju-On. Again it deals with a curse of a revenging ghost. The title “Ju-On” is explained in the beginning. It is the grudge (but “wratch” or “vengeance” would have been a better translation) of a person who died violently. This is all you need to know, and please keep this advice in mind: do not read the back of the box! because it gives away every surprise that there could possibly be. Oh, the story is a bit hard to follow and it is hard to say if it is given chronologically or if different stories/chapters play in different periods of time. This also comes from the fact that Japanese women are (at least for me) hard to keep apart anyway and when they also change haircuts during the film, I am lost.

Anyway, just like the four Ring-films and for example Kakashi, this film should be watched in a dark room on big speakers at high volume. Also for this film goes that you should watch it for the atmoshere, not for the cheap frights of Western horrors, because you won’t get any. So if you like that and you like the Rings, you will love this one!

Jigureul Jikyeora! * Jun-Hwan Jeong * 2003

save the green planet

The poster and the title say exactly what kind of film this is: a very wrong one! I think this is the first Eastern (Korean) comedy that I see, well… comedy? The film is completely over the top. A guy thinks that aliens are going to take over the world. He kidnaps people who he think they are alien and tortures them in an abandonned mine that he lives in. When he kidnaps a rich businessman it becomes obvious that he is a very weak personality. The police-force goes out to look for the business man and also a detective who was kicked out off the police-force.
The film combines the genres of comedy, crime investigating film with pretty raw ‘horrorish’ elements (compare: “Audition”). The humour is cheap and silly (but funny), but sometimes remind of the work of Jean-Paul Jeunet (“Delicatessen”, “Amelié”, etc.). The characters are stereotypical (taken from Hollywood films I guess). The violence is pretty cruel. In total this film is enjoyable, definately different from the Eastern films that I usually watch, not brilliant but nice to watch some time. I think if you like a grim comedy such as “Delicatessen” you may enjoy this film too.

Janghwa, Hongryeon * Ji-woon Kim * 2003

a tale of two sisters

A strange film about two sisters who return home after having spend some time in a mental institution. At home there lives a terrible stepmother. I have seen the film only ones so far and I don’t understand much of the story. One of the sisters died and the other can’t get over that. The stepmother is -to say the least- strange and somehow a monster (or an imaginary monster?) is formed.
The director comes from South Korea, but the film is a horror in the Japanese style such as Ringu, Ju-On or Kakashi. The film is more horror than Ringu, but not as much as Ju-On. The atmosphere is more or less the same, but “A Tale Of Two Sisters” has some other styles of filming as well, especially in the beginning. It is a nice film, with a nice atmosphere, but I will have to see it again to be able to judge the story.