Masahiro SatoAya OkamotoSlit Mouthed WomanGakkou no Kaidan
Gakkou no Kaidan (1995)
Also known as: School Ghost Stories, Haunted School
Medium: film
Year: 1995
Director: Hideyuki Hirayama
Actor: Hironobu Nomura, Shiori Yonezawa, Ayako Sugiyama, Aya Okamoto, Masahiro Sato, Kaoru Mizuki
Keywords: Gakkou no Kaidan, ghost, horror, Slit Mouthed Woman
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 100 minutes
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 11 June 2024
Gakkou no Kaidan 1995 film
In the 1980s, a schoolteacher called Toru Tsunemitsu started sharing ghost stories with his students. So many of these involved school that he focused on those and eventually turned them into books. There was a live-action TV mini-series adaptation in 1994, then a series of films of which this is the first. I quite enjoyed it, but be aware that it's a children's film. That's true of the whole franchise. Tsunemitsu got the original stories from children and published the books for children. Anyone who goes in expecting terrifying J-horror will be disappointed. A J-horror book has summarised it as "packed with two scoops of wild, surrealistic visions, but no real sense of menace. A threadbare and uninteresting plot holds together 100-some minutes' worth of weird but mostly non-threatening spooks."
This is true... but it's also what they were aiming for. There's no gore, for instance. Obviously. Its child heroes are more or less primary school age, which gives the film a unique energy. (Thus, for once, it makes sense when our heroes do the stupidest thing in the world and break into the abandoned horror-movie school... because that's exactly what you'd expect from children.) The supposedly scary elements are often goofy, which gives the film personality. 1. The monster reveal in the pre-credits sequence is a Death By Hovering Watermelon, except that I bet he didn't die. 2. Later, we meet a ghost orang-utan that's best imagined as a purple comedy Slimer from Ghostbusters. It's got a big silly grin and a daft tongue. It's ridiculous... and yet it made me jump. Awesome.
The film's driven by wacky ideas, not plot. There's claymation in the art room, dead things reviving in the science room (even inside formaldeyde) and a classroom where the angles are wrong (which reminded me of Lovecraft). A boy draws a big demonic circle in the playground and people wander past as if that happens every day. There are wrong reflections. There's a Spider-Man (but not the Marvel Comics character) and a strange pair of spectacles. There's even Kuchisake-onna (yeesh) and Hanako of the Toilet (who I have a feeling is nice).
The child actors are fine and one of them went on to a proper acting career (until she retired in 2007). I liked them. The film has a knack for children's characterisation, e.g. the slightly obnoxious bad boy who can't shift gear into more sensitive conversations, or the anti-logic one who says he can't speak to one teacher because her shoulders rise when she talks. How do you even process that? There are annoying parents who force their children to say "I'll do such-and-such" but then drop it and go no further when the child mechanically said it with obviously no intention of obeying. Grrrrr. Either follow through on your orders or don't say it in the first place. I wanted to give those parents a talking-to, even if the biker chick mother is cool.
This is a quaint, charming, slightly pointless film that doesn't suggest the 1990s. You'd guess the sixties or seventies. The abandoned school setting, the SFX and even the film stock all suggest something older. (The film's Spider-Man would go alongside The Thing, though, and is only suitable for a children's film because he's gore-free. His were the only scenes that made me think "eighties".)
I don't know if I'd call this film "good", but it was successful. It did its intended job. I'd happily watch it with children... and technically I did. They got up while I was watching it this morning and I didn't turn it off. No one objected.