Slit Mouthed WomanJapanese
Kuchisake-onna (1996)
Medium: film
Year: 1996
Director: Teruyoshi Ishii
Writer: Yuki Okano
Actor: Junichi Gamou, Takahiro Hirano, Teisui Ichiryusai
Keywords: Slit Mouthed Woman, horror
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: Live-action anthology film, 50 minutes
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 24 June 2024
Kuchisake onna 1996
A few years ago, I watched all the Kuchisake-onna films I could find, but I missed this one... and, indeed, enough for another binge. You wouldn't believe how many films she's appeared in.
"Kuchisake-onna" means "slit-mouthed woman" and refers to a Japanese ghost with her mouth slit open from ear to ear. She wears a face mask and will ask if you think she's beautiful. If you say "no", she'll kill you with scissors, or some other sharp weapon. If you say "yes", she'll remove her mask and ask again, killing anyone who screams or changes their answer to "no". If you say "yes" again, you might survive. (No promises.) But she might kill you in your sleep at midnight. Or she might give you a Glasgow smile like hers, since you said you liked it.
Conclusion: don't meet her. Even compared with other Japanese ghosts, she's bad news.
This is a cheap straight-to-video anthology film and she's only in the first segment, but I believe it's her live-action debut. She's also in a 1994 Studio Ghibli animated film, though, which blows my mind. It's Pom Poko and I'm tempted to rewatch it just to look for her. Anyway, going through this film...
1. KUCHISAKE-ONNA (16 minutes)
It's an origin story. Nothing supernatural. Just a horror movie slasher with a knife. A hot bloke at work is fancied by all the girls in the office, including our heroine. On his urging, she agrees to get plastic surgery. No no no. Don't do it. Bad idea. She does... but then her face feels itchy. The creepiest moment was when she was swaddled in bandages after the surgery and couldn't talk, so she asked her trademark "am I beautiful?" question of the doctor by writing it on a whiteboard.
Body count: definitely one, probably three. One doctor, that hot bloke at work and the girl he's kissing. The film also includes street interviews where members of the public share their memories of what's probably the most famous Japanese urban myth. In the 1970s, there were so many rumours about her that groups of adults would walk children home from school.
2. A LITTLE BOY'S SMOOTHIE (2 minutes)
A little boy loves his smoothies, which his mum says is because it includes all his favourite things!
There's a punchline. It's very EC Comics.
3. TAKESHI AND THE SLUGS (13 minutes)
Takeshi has two women in his life, so he murders one of them (his fiancee) and leaves her corpse by a canal where slugs are crawling all over her. Slugs then become a feature in his life, although no one else can see them. (The ickiest moment isn't slugs on food, but slugs on his chair... and he has to sit on them anyway, because he's at work.)
A little girl finds a cardboard box and takes it home, all excited. Mummy's less thrilled and tells her to put it back where she found it. You'll see the punchline coming, but it's still freaky.
A friendless ten-year-old has no one in his life except his mother. He loves her and just wants to play with her, but she can't be bothered. She's pregnant and says she's too busy. (Does he want a baby sister? No.) Our hero obediently goes off and fills his time by finding things to torture, kill and bury in the garden. He starts small and works up. A hamster. A kitten. What's next?
This is a cheap and sometimes tacky film. The acting's not great and the production values are minimal. There's a host (Teisui Ichiryusai, credited as "storyteller"), who's dressed as a bald Buddhist priest in a dark room full of candles and is always telling us what we can see happening. It's practically a narrated audiobook with moving live-action illustrations.
It can also be disturbing. Especially the ten-year-old serial killer. That wasn't fun to watch. There's a surprising level of thematic unity, with all the stories being about women and love, be it of men (unfaithful and probably evil) or young sons (who love their mothers but also torture and kill animals). The only segment that doesn't fit this template is #4 and even that's clearly related.
As such, this is theoretically an interesting film. As a horror anthology, it has its moments. That said, though, don't watch it unless you're happy with cheap filmmaking that occasionally borders on laughable (acting, stabbing-the-camera, whatever).