Posts Tagged ‘Japanese horror’

A good number of you probably remember that late last year, I did a series of posts where I reevaluated scary movies I’d previously seen and disliked called the Rewatch Series. The first of those movies was the psychological horror anime movie Perfect Blue, released in 1997. I found that my previous dislike for the film had been based on my not understanding it, and that with a few more years and a better understanding, I found it to be a really good movie.

I’d also known for a long time that the movie was based on a novel, but it wasn’t translated into English and therefore I had no hope of reading it. That is, until I found out a few months ago that Seven Seas Entertainment had licensed and translated the novel for the English-language market. Naturally, I got excited and tried to get my hands on it. And after about four months, I finally did get a copy and sit down to read it.

Boy, that’s different than the movie in more ways than one. But of course, this won’t be a book-vs.-movie comparison (at least not entirely). It’s a review, so let’s get to reviewing.

Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis follows two very different people: Mima Kirigoe, a Japanese pop idol who is trying to leave behind her image as an “innocent” starlet and take on a more mature image; and the other is someone simply identified as “the man,” a man who is obsessed with Mima and her “innocent” image and resolves to keep her innocent by any means necessary. When their paths intersect, their lives will be changed forever.

So right away, I should point out that the movie took a lot of liberties with the original story. Whereas the movie was a deeply psychological story about a young woman struggling with her identity, how people saw her, and how she saw herself after a career change, the novel itself is a very basic stalker story, like what you might find in an episode of Criminal Minds.* The story is mainly told from the viewpoints of Mima, who in this version is okay and even yearns for the changes to her image so she can progress in her idol career, and “the man,” whose sanity erodes the further Mima seems to get away from her innocent image and whose plans get more drastic. There are times when the story is told from the POV of other characters, but they’re always related in some way to the lives of Mima and “the man.”

What I do like about the novel is that “the man,” who in the movie is called “Mr. Me-Mania,” is given more complexity and we see more things from his perspective, why Mima’s innocence is so important for him and some of his ideas about the world. Not only that, but in the movie Mr. Me-Mania is, while intimidating, mostly a passive character, not taking any sort of action beyond stalking until late in the film. But from the beginning of the novel, “the man” is completely active and menacing, committing a horrific crime within the first few pages of the novel. It’s very effective for setting our perceptions of “the man,” and sets things up for the more disturbing actions he takes later in the story.

Speaking of which, there are some really disturbing scenes in the novel, especially as you go later in, that utilize body horror. Now, normally I’m not that big a fan of body horror (I associate it too much with torture porn, which I’m not the biggest fan of), but here it’s done very well, especially when “the man” starts practicing for his plan to “save” Mima. This is followed by a very scary climax, which utilizes tension, body horror, and good old-fashioned chase to effectively keep the reader drawn in and wanting to find out what happens next.

While not the same as the film, the novel is still good on its own merits.

However, the novel isn’t perfect. As I said, the story is a very basic stalker tale. The novel doesn’t go as deeply as it could into who Mima is as a person, and I would’ve liked to go deeper into that, as well as into other aspects of the story (but then again, Takeuchi did say in an afterword that he was simply writing a story around the conflict between an idol’s desire to grow and a fan’s desire to hold onto the image he fell in love with. On that alone, he certainly succeeded). That, and I felt that the novel ended a little too abruptly, without really showing the aftermath of the story’s main events.

Still, t is a decent, if very simple, story of psychotic cat and mouse. And while I like the movie better, I have to say I’m glad I picked up the original novel. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis a 3.8. A gripping story of obsession with plenty of tension and well-written body horror. Take a look and let the story get under your skin (whether you want it to or not).

*In case you’re curious about the author’s feelings about the changes made to the story for the movie version, there’s an afterword at the end of the book written just after the film came out where he seems not only okay with the changes, but also was enthusiastic about the movie itself. Always nice when an author is okay with the changes made from book to film.

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I started this series of rewatching movies I previously disliked with an Asian horror film, and it seems I’m ending it with an Asian horror film, albeit from a different country. I swear, that wasn’t intentional.

But before I get into the review, I want to thank you all for keeping up with this series and making it a success. Watching films I’ve hated has been no easy task. It’s time-consuming and can be almost physically painful to watch some of these duds. If it weren’t for the constant reads, likes, and comments you guys gave me, I would’ve probably stopped after film number 3 or 4. So thank you for being there and enjoying these rewatch reviews. I hope you got something from them (particularly ideas about which films to enjoy and which to avoid). I certainly did (some of which my doctor can’t find a diagnosis for).

So onto the final Rewatch Review, the 1998 landmark South Korean horror film, Whispering Corridors.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The film follows Ji-oh, a strong-willed but slightly superstitious artist at an all-girls high school and Eun-young, a young teacher who was once a student at the school. They become aware that there may be a ghost at the school targeting teachers. As Ji-oh tries to figure out if perhaps she’s connected to the deaths, Eun-young knows she has a connection to the deaths, and must try to stop them before they get any worse. Both women will find out, they both have a connection to the deaths, and to the ghosts causing them.

WHY I DIDN’T LIKE IT: I was watching a lot of Asian horror films when I saw this one, and I thought this one didn’t compare well to the others I’d seen at the time. Just not scary enough, and too much focus on daily life instead of spooky, scary spirits.

WHY I REWATCHED IT: I found out this was one of the first horror films made in South Korea after the end of the dictatorship, and that it came with a lot of commentary on that time and on the South Korean school system, which made me see it in a whole new light. It also started a successful series of horror films set at all-girls schools, one of which involves a ballet school (and you know I’m a sucker for ballet) and was influential on Korean horror and Korean cinema as a whole. And finally, I needed a tenth movie to round out the series. Hence, Whispering Corridors.

THOUGHTS: Okay, it’s not as intense as other horror films I’ve seen, but it is a decent film.

For one thing, the story does set up a great mystery: it’s established early in the film that the ghost is masquerading as a student, and does a good job of making you guess who the ghost is. And while the body count in this film is small, they’re shot well and at times executed (pun intended) very creatively. All this contributes to create a unique, fairly creepy atmosphere.

There’s also the non-supernatural horror in the film: the school system itself. As I said above, the film features heavy commentary on the South Korean educational system, in this case the darker sides coalesced into one school. A number of the teachers make the school into an uncomfortable place to be. They’re often verbally abusive, set the students against one another and, in the case of one teacher, physically abuse and sexually harass students! I mean, my God! And all on top of a rigorous education philosophy designed to emphasize academic excellence to the point of crowding out everything else. To say the least, it’s horrifying.

That being said, the film does have its problems. The pacing can be very slow, with lots of moments involving people just talking rather than anything supernatural and/or exciting. I know some horror stories are slow-burns, but I don’t think this one should be one of them. Also, the ending is a little sappy, with a special effect that I’ve seen done better in other films.

But that’s the extent of the problems I’ve found. And considering other films with more problems that I’ve seen, I’ll take that.

JUDGMENT: I’m glad I made this film part of this series. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Whispering Corridors a 3.7 out of 5. Not the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, but I recommend seeing it. In a good way, it’s like Texas Chainsaw Massacre: while it may not be that terrifying, you should see it for the impact it has. And I guarantee that if you do see it, you won’t be as disappointed as you might be with TCM.

Just be aware that this is an extremely difficult film to find. Not kidding, I had to jump through a few hoops to find this film (hopefully the sequels will be easier to find). And you’ll likely have to go through a few too to get this one. Just warning you.

 

And that brings an end to the Rewatch Review series, for now anyway. We had laughs, we had tears, we had screams of terror or boredom. And who knows? I may do this again someday, if I can find enough films to rewatch and the will to go through it again. But right now, I think I’ll try getting through my Netflix queue.

So here it is, finally. The first in my Rewatch Review series, in which I look at horror or thriller movies I’ve seen and didn’t like/had problems with and see if maybe I missed something the first time. I’m kind of just winging it with this first one, with no fixed plan on length or how deep I’m going into these films and their respective qualities, but at the very least, I hope if you haven’t seen these films, you get an idea of whether or not it’s worth checking out. And if you have seen any of these films, you’ll get an idea of what my thoughts are on them these days.

With that out of the way, here are my thoughts on Perfect Blue!

WHAT’S IT ABOUT: Perfect Blue is an anime film that follows Mima “Mimarin” Kirigoe, a Japanese pop idol singer who, on the advice of her agency, is reluctantly leaving the pop idol industry to become an actress on a TV show.  Experiencing a crisis of identity and followed everywhere by a violent stalker, things only get worse for Mima as events conspire to blur her perceptions of reality and fiction, leading to a violent and horrifying head where not just her own life is at stake, but her very identity as well.

WHY I DIDN’T LIKE IT: I thought it was too trippy when I first saw it in college, and it kind of dragged at points. I had expected something much more dynamic, and this felt more slow-burn to me.

WHY I REWATCHED IT: I saw a video essay on the movie a while back, and it pointed out some interesting things about the film that made me want to go back and give it another chance.

THOUGHTS: I’m glad I rewatched this film, because it is really good. I’m actually a little disappointed that I didn’t care for it when I saw it in college. It’s a great psychological thriller, and there’s a lot to talk about on several different levels (I’ll stick to the film quality and not to diving deeper into the psychological aspects. I’ll leave that to the video essay I mentioned above).

First off, the animation is different from most anime, which is very stylistic. The artwork isn’t exaggerated or distinctly cartoony, full of jumpy animations and wild reactions. If you think of most anime, like Sailor Moon, Pokemon, and One Piece as analogues to cartoons like Family Guy or Looney Tunes (just examples for the non-fans out there, don’t kill me, fellow anime lovers), then Perfect Blue‘s style is more analogous to early Disney films, particularly those of Cinderella and Snow White (the latter is actually a lot darker than you probably remember it if you go back to watch it). It’s very grounded and scaled back, with very few characters actually looking pretty, cute or cool. The only ones who do are characters directly involved in the entertainment industry, and that makes the movie feel real to us. It’s a world very much like ours, with violence like ours, and people just like ours. So when you see something violent within the film, the realism makes it all the more powerful. This isn’t just animation, this feels like it could happen. Maybe it has happened, and it’s amazing to see animation portray that.

Speaking of the main character, Mima is presented to the audience with extraordinary skill. There’s no exposition or anything, but who she is and how she feels is made clear to us, which makes her real to us. We’re shown quiet moments for her, such as grocery shopping or getting to and from work, presented in contrast to her life as a celebrity, and that really conveys to us just what sort of character Mima is. And that’s good, because the central conflict is around who she is: Mima has trouble dealing with the fact that she’s been talked into changing careers, and isn’t sure who she is now that she’s changed. With the struggles of her new acting career starting to get to her, as well as visitations from her stalker, Mima’s own grasp on reality starts to go. She starts to lose track on what’s part of her new TV show, which bears some resemblances to her own mental struggle, as well as starts to see a phantom version of her pop-idol persona. And so do we, the audience, unable to tell what is real, what is part of her show, and what is part of her tortured pscyhe.

And when that happens, we feel Mima’s inner anguish. We’re right there with her, trying to unsuccessfully figure out what’s real and what isn’t. And when we can’t come up with those answers with Mima, it only makes the terror of the moment and of the unreality of the situation that much stronger.

JUDGMENT: If you think that anime can’t be deep or anything other than silly cartoons, you need to watch Perfect Blue. It’s a twisted story of a girl trying to find herself under the most terrifying circumstances reality can give her, full of gorgeous but realistic animation, intense scenes and visuals (I’m talking to you, screwdriver scene!), and great questions on the idea of our true selves versus the personas we create for ourselves (that’s a subject for another post). Definite 4.5 out of 5. Pop it in and see what the rabbit hole uncovers.

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope you enjoyed the first entry in the Rewatch Review series, and I hope you join me when I get my hands on 2008’s The Strangers.

Back in January, I read and reviewed Uzumaki, a Japanese manga by Junji Ito about a small town that comes under a curse centering the idea of a spiral. It was as scary as it was out there (see my review here), and I had mentioned that I would like to get my hands on the film version and see how that compared. Well, some Amazon gift cardd money and a lost package later, I finally watched Uzumaki today. So how does it compare to the manga, andd how does it hold up as a film in general?

Well, it definitely ties down the strangeness of the manga. Uzumaki, like I said, is an out there story, and the film does a very good job of bringing that forth, using odd camera angles, weird visuals, and strange little special effect touches to really add an atmosphere of unreality to the film. There’s this one moment where two characters are walking down a hallway, and they pass a bunch of people standing against the walls just staring at their shoes, and neither character notices the people on the walls, or vice versa. It’s very odd, and kind of unsettling.

I also thought the actors did a very good job. The characters aren’t that multifaceted, but for an hour and a half movie, they work.

Unfortunately, that’s where the film’s biggest problem is: time. The film is an exact 91 minutes, and that means there’s only so much room to tell a story. And unfortunately, with a large story like that of Uzumaki, there’s only so much material that can be done. The end result makes the film feel kind of lacking. In the manga, you get the full scope of this curse. In the film, it feels more like a weird series of events with only mild connections, like walking to work everyday and seeing someone different each day do a dance at a different part of your walk. You might think it’s a weird and there’s a common cause, but your might not go out of your way to find out why this is happening. And that’s where the film ultimately fails.

I also found that some of the edits to the film are a bit more distracting than they should be. There’s one moment where they do a transition that looks like someone’s spray-painting a new scene into the film, and they use a cartoon-y sound effect to go with it. Not that scary. There’s another moment where a girl puts out a cigarette on a wall, and there’s a mini-explosion from the crushed cigarette’s tip. Um…why? It makes no sense. I know this film is going for that surreal sense of horror, but there’s a limit to what you can do without going into goofy territory.

I honestly think that if you’re going to adapt Uzumaki, you should do it as a TV miniseries rather than a movie. That leaves enough room for not only all the material that was cut from the film for time, but gives us more opportunity to get to know the characters and see them react to the strange events going on around them. And you know, I honestly would like to see that. With TV miniseries making a comeback on cable and series with shorter episode orders like American Horror Story being so successful, I honestly think an Uzumaki adaptation for TV would do very well.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Uzumaki‘s film adaptation a 3.2 out of 5. Great at atmosphere and creating a sense of unreality, but too short to really leave a lasting impression. Honestly, you’re going to be better off reading the original manga, so go check that out and get lost in the spiral there instead.