Shinji TakedaKazuma SuzukiYukiko OkamotoMegumi Okina
Tales of the Unusual
Also known as: Yonimo kimyo na monogatari
Medium: film, anthology
Year: 2000
Director: Masayuki Ochiai ["One Snowy Night"], Masayuki Suzuki ["Samurai Cellular"], Mamoru Hoshi ["Chess"], Hisao Ogura ["The Marriage Simulator"]
Writer: Tomoko Aizawa ["The Marriage Simulator"], Ryoichi Kimizuka ["Samurai Cellular"], Motoki Nakamura ["Chess"], Masayuki Ochiai ["One Snowy Night"], Katsuhide Suzuki ["One Snowy Night"]
Keywords: SF, fantasy, horror, historical
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Kazuyuki Aijima, Izumi Inamori, Renji Ishibashi, Takashi Kashiwabara, Narumi Kayashima, Masahiro Komoto, Ikue Masudo, Akihiko Murata, Kiichi Nakai, Hideyuki Nakayama, Ren Osugi, Yukiko Okamoto, Megumi Okina, Kazuma Suzuki, Shinji Takeda, Tamori, Keiko Toda, Akiko Yada, Koji Yamamoto, Norito Yashima, Isao Yatsu
Format: 126 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0293984/
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 2 July 2012
It's a Japanese anthology movie, spun off from a long-running Fuji TV series of the same name. It's a bit messy and you can feel its TV roots, but it's okay.
There's a framing story, but it feels like something the movie inherited and doesn't know what to do with. A twist would have helped. However that said, it's perfectly functional. A group of strangers are hanging around at a railway station because it's raining cats and dogs outside. One of them starts telling a story, only for a slightly sinister man in sunglasses to take over.
The film contains four episodes, all directed by people who'd worked on the franchise before.
1. ONE SNOWY NIGHT
The horror episode. Beginning with it made me think that this was going to be a horror anthology, only for the other three episodes to prove me wrong. It's also directed by Masayuki Ochiai, who's done a lot of horror and I'd guess might be the biggest name of these mostly TV-level directors. Of his other films, I've also seen Infection, which was excellent.
Anyway, it's about a plane crash in the mountains. They're trapped in a blizzard, they've got almost no food and some of them are injured. "Nice" is not on the agenda. This could have gone down a route of cannibalism, brutal survivalism and so on, but in fact the episode avoids most of the worst extremes of what mankind is capable of and instead decides to get spooky. It feels very Steven Moffat, believe it or not. "Who woke me up?" The story is perhaps a tad underdeveloped, but that's okay for horror and the thirty-minute running time also helps them get away with it.
Besides, it's a murderously simple set-up. You're not expecting complexity. It does the job.
2. SAMURAI CELLULAR
I wouldn't go so far as to call it funny, but it has wit and whimsy. It has a brilliant opening, in which archeologists in Egypt dig up a millennia-old mobile phone. We then jump to the samurai era. Kiichi Nakai is playing Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio, the leader of the 47 ronin whose story is told in the Chushingura. This is a real historical guy, from the start of the 18th century. His destiny is to lead his men on a suicide mission to assassinate a dude called Kira, whose crime had been not to be punished after Oishi's daimyo had tried to murder him. Don't ask. It's Japan.
The interesting bit though is that the, ahem, insult took place in 1701, while Oishi didn't lead his suicide mission to redeem his daimyo's honour until 1703. (The daimyo had long before been sentenced to commit seppuku.) The gag of this episode is that this is because Oishi is a coward and a layabout. He doesn't want to get himself killed for no particularly pressing reason, especially when he could be spending the time in bed with his mistress. (She's hot, by the way, but we don't see her naked.)
Then one day he finds a mobile phone. It's talking to him from the future. It knows who he is.
I don't think I was ever on this story's wavelength. I like the idea of Oishi talking himself into doing the right thing because he's bullshitting someone who thinks he's a hero, but I don't know if I'd call his historical destiny "the right thing". However I love the SF idea, which gives the episode a striking ending. It's less emotionally rich than other "talking across time" movies like Ditto or Il Mare in the same year (both Korean), but I don't mind that since it's clearly a different kind of story.
3. CHESS
Bonkers. It reminded me slightly of The Prisoner, but the ending is ridiculous.
A Japanese world number one chess champion loses to a computer, which is apparently the first time this has happened in the history of the world and causes him to renounce everything and disappear in shame. Eh? However three years later, an incredibly rich nutcase has him whisked off the streets for one last game.
After that, things get unhinged. We see chess with live people. We see reality bending into chess shapes, with a car park being in an eight by eight grid and having a car gliding diagonally across it of its own accord, like a bishop. The director (Masayuki Suzuki) is clearly having a ball and I understand he's done some interesting work, with University of Laughs and 1,778 Stories of Me and My Wife both sounding worth a look. I enjoyed this, but the ending is something of an eye-roller and includes a silly plot point that was a cliche back in the 1960s. It's very Star Trek.
There's still enough eye-catching stuff before that to make this an interesting episode, though.
4. THE MARRIAGE SIMULATOR
Imagine a company that could offer you a VR simulation of your marriage, before the wedding. You could predict the next twenty years. You could see how things would turn out. Pain potential: frightening.
I quite liked this. It's emotionally grounded, with both nice and nasty in the mix, and has some nice bits. It's an SF-flavoured twist on the romance-drama genre. However at the end of the day, I didn't believe what it said on the tin. Look back afterwards. In what way was that a marriage simulator? On the contrary, it's an anti-marriage simulator, isn't it? However that's me being nitpicky and the episode as a whole is pretty good, if perhaps a tad uncomfortable to watch at times.
OVERALL
It's okay, but it could have been tighter both as an anthology and within its individual stories. You'll expect it to be a horror anthology, but it's not. You'll be expecting more of the framing story. The episodes include some dubious plot points. I suspect this is a movie that would have gone down better with fans of the TV series, who'd have gone in expecting no two stories to be even the same genre... although that said, they all have some kind of SF, paranormal and/or mindbending element. It's also a popular and long-lived franchise, with new TV specials still regularly being produced to add to the TV series (which I presume must have stopped by now) and this theatrical movie. I don't think it's good enough to bother seeking out, but it also has enough of interest that I wouldn't turn off the TV if it happened to be on. I'm becoming mildly curious about the other specials.