Rightly obscure. If you judge it as a horror film, you'll hate it. Personally I thought it lacked clarity and wasn't bad, but could never be called noteworthy either.
The plot outline is suspiciously akin to J-horror, mind you. I honestly can't tell if that was the intention. It came across to me as a regular movie that happened to be borrowing some familiar story elements, but it's possible that that's simply because the director was rubbish at making his film scary. After all, this is a Japanese ghost story about a vengeful female spirit who kills and possesses people, in a film that's full of water. There are a handful of violent scenes involving knives, eyes and crowbars, although this is in no way a gore film and nothing really disgusting happens.
However it's adapted from a novel. It's also being rigorously pseudo-scientific about its ghost stuff, with explanations for everything and no supernatural elements at all. J-horror's capable of that too, but it's still striking.
The lead character, Yoshino Kimura, is a reluctant psychic with low self-esteem, who's disturbed by her gift of being able to hear what other people are thinking and is taking anti-psychotic drugs to try to suppress it. She's nice enough, though. She doesn't have a job, but instead goes around doing volunteer work. The film opens with the Kobe earthquake of 15 January 1995 and she travels there from Tokyo to help care for the dispossessed survivors. Something goes wrong and she flees in search of other people to help, eventually finding a damaged girl (Yu Kurosawa) with multiple personality disorder. Kimura identifies with this. She sees them both as people who have trouble finding acceptance. However it turns out that one of Kurosawa's many anti-social personalities is called Isola and appears to be something of an angel of death.
The story goes on to include medical researchers, out-of-body experiments and a hard-nosed psychological counsellor. There's a lot of psychobabble in this one, but I thought they could have used a bit more emphasis on the plot and character instead. There's a scene in the second half where Kimura explains her motivations for wanting to help Kurosawa, but it would have been nice if we'd got some of that from watching her instead of just having it dumped on us through dialogue. Similarly I must have missed how Kimura came to investigate Dr Yayoi (Makiko Watanabe) and the hospital. That's kind of important. Where's the connection? I'm sure it's there somewhere, mind you. The novel wouldn't have missed out something like that. However the film occasionally struck me as being a bit hand-wavey, another example being the "eh?" moment of Kurosawa's supposedly dead father turning up to collect her from the hospital. There's a perfectly simple explanation, but it's still a moment of confusion.
As for the acting, it's passable. No one's bad. However the lead actors all look to be more TV-level rather than feature films, while Kimura isn't doing much with her lead role. She's pretty and she seems a very nice person. That's about it. (Incidentally our troubled teenager, Yu Kurosawa, has four screen credits for 2000, but nothing else before or since. Maybe she didn't enjoy it?)
That said, the film's basically good. I'm sure the novel's fine. If judged as a regular movie rather than horror, I've no problem with the characters or with the plot that's built around them. It's nothing special, but it's quite an interesting little film whose cast have an unusual combination of psychic powers and emotional issues. The backstory's good. It's gentle when it could have been exploitative. I quite enjoyed the film, in its own way, and it's only when thinking about what it was trying to do that I start to hum and hah.
There were a few things I liked, though. The Kobe earthquake is shown through lots of contemporary news footage, with which the contemporary Japanese audience would of course have been all too familiar but was striking for me. That's an opening you can't help but take seriously. In addition, on a more frivolous note, there's a Takashi Miike cameo as a hobo in the background of the Suicide By Meat Skewers scene, plus a fair amount of nudity. The ghost is female and goes around naked.
Overall, it's okay. You could do worse, but there's just not enough here in any department for a recommendation. The director can be heavy-handed, e.g. the lipstick advertising billboard, and the way the finale is setting up sequels might be an indication that they might have been trying to jump on the Ringu bandwagon after all. Look at that floating point-of-view shot at the end, in which the camera drifts away up over the roof and escapes. Perhaps that's just playful camerawork, but if a sequel had happened, that would have been the ghost. Besides, another director could have turned this script into a stone-cold horror film, while I see from imdb that Toshiyuki Mizutani is just as TV-level as his cast. Did he really think a Buffy the Vampire Slayer make-up job for the finale was a good idea, for instance?
However that said, I didn't hate this film at all. It has nice bits, like the Baum drawings. Also, despite a couple of "anticipation of violence" moments, I like the way it's more pleasant and civilised than you might expect. My advice is not to watch this film, since there must be a couple of dozen Japanese films from that year alone which you'd want to watch first, but you'll find it's not without merit if you do.