Gakkou no KaidanghostJapanese
Haunted School: The Curse of the Word Spirit
Also known as: Gakkou no Kaidan: Noroi no Kotodama
Medium: film
Year: 2014
Writer/director: Masayuki Ochiai
Actor: Hitomi Arai, Shono Hayama, Kai Inowaki, Anna Ishibashi, Ayano Konishi, Tatsuya Kuroki, Yuri Nakae, Mei Shoji, Kohei Takeda, Miyu Yamabe
Keywords: Gakkou no Kaidan, ghost, horror
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 105 minutes
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 19 June 2024
Gakkou no Kaidan 2014
It's a proper Gakkou no Kaidan film, many years after the franchise went quiet. Toru Tsunemitsu is in the credits and everything. I enjoyed it, but it's not for children. Despite having no gore, it's a proper J-horror film with creepy ghosts and a cast who are all at least high school age.
It's very much a ghost story, so it's slow, deliberately confusing and likely to annoy fans of plot, action and/or splatter. Its spooky anticipation can work quite well (e.g. the curtains around the infirmary bed), but the actual shock reveals can be underwhelming. Oh, a ghost. Yeah, and? Waiting for them is scarier than their actual appearance. Personally, I'd love to meet a ghost... but for the duration of this film I was happy to go along with Japanese assumptions and agree that, for instance, looking through that crack in that wall was a very bad idea.
It's unclear what happened when. Reality is flexible and there's another of those Gakkou no Kaidan mirrors that don't reflect what they should. Is it another world on the other side? Is this 1988 or the present day? Is the school abandoned, semi-abandoned or in its pomp? (The "semi-abandoned" stage is because Japanese birth rates are falling, so the current year only uses three of the five classrooms, leaving two empty. This is a neat trick, letting the film put unsettlingly deserted classrooms alongside ordinary ones.) Most of the cast are school age, but there are also three dicks who break into the school (completely abandoned in this timezone) to shoot horror film scenes. They want to put these online and get rich. Guess how well that goes for them. (Also, I think I know what would have happened if they'd managed to put that footage on the internet.)
There's wacky talk of "kotodama"... but the filmmakers didn't invent this. It's a real Japanese concept, made from the characters for "word" and "spirit/soul". It means "the mysterious power of words to alter reality", suggesting that sounds can affect objects and that the spoken word can rewrite reality, the body and the mind. Guess what that means for children telling spooky stories to each other (which was after all the origin of Gakkou no Kaidan).
The cast includes the five members of a Japanese idol group, TOKYO GIRLS' STYLE, each playing a character with the actress's real name. (A year later, the group rebranded themselves as serious post-idol artists.) You wouldn't guess, though. Their performances are okay, although you might occasionally struggle to remember which generic schoolgirl is which. One (Yuri Nakae) had already been an actress for well over a decade when they made this film.
It's a good ghost story. It's got the slow-building pace, the ambiguity, the blurred lines about who the ghosts really are, etc. It has creepy moments, e.g. when the dicks shoot their ghost scene and are delighted with how realistic it looks. Little do they know. Some of the visuals can be goofy, e.g. the walking severed feet, but even those get sinister when they're following you around. The film's open to the idea of non-hostile ghosts (which I liked), but one way or another we can be sure most of the cast won't leave this school alive. I enjoyed this one.