Aki MaedaShusuke KanekoHitomi KurokiToshiyuki Toyonaga
Gakkou no Kaidan 3
Also known as: School Ghost Stories 3, Haunted School 3
Medium: film
Year: 1997
Director: Shusuke Kaneko
Writer: Shusuke Kaneko, Michiru Shimada
Actor: Naomi Nishida, Aki Maeda, Shiori Yonezawa, Toshiyuki Toyonaga, Hitomi Kuroki, Kenta Satoi, Hideki Noda, Asuka Yamaguchi
Keywords: Gakkou no Kaidan, ghost, horror
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 96 minutes
Url: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0143263/
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 13 June 2024
Gakkou no Kaidan 3
It's the best of the four main 1990s Gakkou no Kaidan films, by a significant distance, and the only one not directed by Hideyuki Hirayama. Instead, it's by Shusuke Kaneko, who also did the first two Death Note live-action movies and some highly regarded Godzilla and Gamera films.
To me, this film felt like a demonstration of how to fix its predecessor's failures. Forgettable cast? Look, you fix that like this. A lack of narrative spine? Fixed that too. Corny cliches we've seen a million times before? Definitely not a problem here. Lack of horror, especially in the first half-hour? All sorted out. It's like a "how to" guide for this franchise... yet it has surprisingly few ghosts. Instead, it's borrowing from famous scary 1980s and 1990s film franchises. The figures in white masks who'll stalk you with kitchen knives reminded me of Michael Myers from John Carpenter's Halloween (or else perhaps Autons). Yes, this film has slashers trying to stab children. There's a dazzling white light shot that reminded me of Poltergeist. The bus zombies... holy shit. (They don't eat anyone, but you will have to pay your bus fare.) The film even briefly does Jurassic Park, which had scared audiences four years earlier.
It's funny. I laughed several times. The excitable teacher at a school sports day, for instance... and yet we'll learn later that her overreactions had a deep character-related reason.
I like the cast, of whom some had played other roles earlier in this series. (Hironobu Nomura only gets a cameo, though.) Kubota (Takuma Yoshizawa) and Mayuko (Aki Maeda) are regarded by all as boyfriend and girlfriend, despite being still in primary school. They're definitely friends, though. (Three years later, Maeda played the heroine in Battle Royale.) Akane (Shiori Yonezawa) and Makoto (Kazuki Yamada), though, aren't friends at all. Makoto's a fat mummy's boy and Akane thinks he's a waste of space... until he says he fancies her, which does her head in.
The film's biggest emotional journey, though, doesn't involve ghosts. Kubota's mother wants to remarry. For Kubota, this will mean moving to Tokyo, saying goodbye to Mayuko and becoming the step-brother of two brats who make a terrible first impression. One's a smug know-it-all who likens himself to Bill Gates and wants Kubota to sign a contract to be acknowledged as his brother. The other introduces herself by jumping up and down while chanting "snot snot snot". Parents who want to get married become the film's scariest threat, thanks to Auton-isation by way of Michael Myers and those kitchen knives.
Colour is a big deal in this movie. There's lots of monochrome or near-monochrome, but significant and supernatural things are often a loud red or blue. This has an effect on you. The creepiest thing in this film is Kubota's mother sharpening a knife while wearing a red dress.
The plot involves a literal mirror universe. That teacher finds a dragon mirror that sucks people into another reality. (The paired mirrors with infinite reflections will get you watching very, very carefully.) The mirror writing on the other side is surprisingly unsettling, while the film's going further than its predecessor with Lovecraftian wrong angles.
Sometimes, it's silly. That clay thing was scarier before it started moving, although that teacher getting rid of it made me laugh aloud. That flipping orang-utan gets another cameo, but the director manages to make that funny too.
This one's great. It's not a classic, but a solid, witty, intelligent film that does everything right. It's telling a proper story that gives all the cast own sub-plots, motivations and characterisation. Everyone matters, including the children. No one's wallpaper. The horror content is a metaphor for the characters' inner journeys, as Joss Whedon started doing on TV that year in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The film's about starting a new phase in your life and the ensuing goodbyes. I also really like the message of the ending, even if it's undermined by some of the child actors' under-emoting.
It's also not joking about its horror content. Yeah, it's still kiddie friendly and no, there's no gore... but bloody hell.