Rin AsukaYoko HoshiTetta SugimotoAiri Matsuyama
Higurashi When They Cry (2008 live-action movie)
Also known as: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (2008 live-action movie)
Medium: film
Year: 2008
Writer/director: Ataru Oikawa
Actor: Goki Maeda, Airi Matsuyama, Rin Asuka, Yoko Hoshi, Ayako Kawahara, Hitomi Miwa, Tetta Sugimoto, Koutaro Tanaka, Zenkichi Yoneyama
Keywords: Higurashi, horror
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 109 minutes
Url: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1116935/
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 19 November 2019
It's the first Higurashi live-action film. I liked it. It's faithful and good, especially given the difficulties of turning Higurashi into a movie. They had two choices:
(a) try to compress the whole franchise into 109 minutes. Impossible.
(b) just do one arc, which they've done here. (It's the franchise's opening arc, "Spirited Away by the Demon", after which the 2009 sequel film adapted the last arc of Season 1 of the anime. Fair enough. I can't think of anything better.)
Unfortunately, though, this means a death-dive into paranoia and insanity. Only confusing suggestions of a bigger picture. No reboots, no second chances. Horrible things happen, then it's the end. If you're unfamiliar with Higurashi, you might see this film as a big, dark non-sequitur... until the trailer for the 2009 film afterwards. Don't ask me what a casual audience would think that meant.
For me, though, Keiichi's final letter was a reminder that this was where it all started. It felt like the beginning of what I knew was a huge journey. That was, oddly, nice.
Anyway, we're watching Higurashi's first story arc. That's the logical place to begin. Keiichi moves to a village, Hinamizawa, and finds it charming and relaxing. At first he's got quite an attitude, but maybe he just doesn't like shaking hands? He mellows. He hangs out with his new classmates, especially Rena and Mion. (I got the impression that Rena likes him a lot, but Mion will tense up and get self-conscious in huggy situations.) Everything's nice and there's still no suggestion yet of death, dismememberments, dam wars or crazy psycho people who put needles in food.
(The latter was nastier than in both the anime and the 2016 TV series. Ewwww.)
Gouki Maeda is quite interesting as Keiichi. He's an ugly sort of handsome, which at times can make him seem menacing. He'd look a bit odd as a conventional romantic lead, but he's a good fit for Higurashi. Hostile and suspicious? Yup, he can do that. As for the girls, we're mostly watching Airi Matsuyama (Rena Ryuuguu) and Rin Asuka (Mion Sonozaki), but fortunately I liked them both. There's very little screen time for the youngsters, Aika (Rika Furude) and Erena Ono (Satoko).
They're also sensible about the speech tics. Rena repeating the end of phrases is only used for a specific effect, while Rika doesn't say "nipaa". Thank goodness.
The adults never reminded me of their anime equivalents, with Ayako Kawahara (Takano) being particularly unlike what I'd been expecting. However, this was only distracting with Tetta Sugimoto (Kuraudo Ooishi). I liked him, mind you. Sugimoto's a good actor, but also too far young for a character who's supposed to be approaching retirement and the worst fit of the four actors I've seen in the role. (Chafurin's voice work in the anime was so odd that it's hard to dislodge him from your head, while Ren Osugi in 2009 is one of my favourite Japanese actors and Shinobu Tsuruta in 2016 is a wonderful old git.)
Is this a good film? Dunno. It would make a pretty freaky standalone, but it's a good Higurashi adaptation. They've nailed the mood, the pace and the escalating creepiness. Rena's flashback at her other school is disturbing to look at, for instance. They make you wonder what's real and what's unreliable craziness. (I like the eyeball thing.) They capture the all-important theme of friendship vs. mistrust, lies, secrets, etc. Keiichi will indeed act like a dick, but it's equally true that Rena and Mion are stonewalling whenever asked about something they don't like.
This isn't a gross-out film, incidentally, but it has its gore moments.
The only thing I wasn't keen on was all the hints, clues and giveaways at the end, but that just means I should rewatch the original to see how many of those had been in plain sight all along there too. Maybe I'd forgotten?
I enjoyed this film, but I'd probably recommend it only for Higurashi fans. For starters, it's Higurashi. Personally, though, I found it interesting to see Hinamizawa and its inhabitants in live-action. Ideally I'd have liked a stronger presence for Rika and Satoko, but they've made strong, interesting casting choices and it's a solid adaptation that lives up to the material's potential. I'm looking forward to the 2009 sequel.