Ko ShibasakiNorio TsurutaBob SuzukiMaho Nonami
Medium: film
Year: 2001
Director: Norio Tsuruta
Writer: Junji Ito, Ryuta Mitaku, Osamu Murakami, Satoru Tamaki, Norio Tsuruta
Keywords: horror
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Maho Nonami, Ko Shibasaki, Grace Yip, Yoshiki Arizono, Mizuho Igarashi, Yoji Tanaka, Kenzo Kawarasaki, Yukimi Koyanagi, Lily, Shunsuke Matsuoka, Yoshiyuki Morishita, Tomoko Ogawa, Bob Suzuki
Format: 86 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0296032/
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 18 June 2012
It doesn't work, either as a movie or as horror. However as a Junji Ito adaptation, I have some time for it. It's slow-burning, insidious and has a disturbing quality you sometimes get in Lovecraft.
Kakashi means "scarecrow". Theoretically this is a scarecrow horror movie, except that it's fairly rubbish at living up to that description and you're better off thinking of this as another trip into Junji Ito's world. Our heroine, Maho Nonami, is looking for her brother. She finds a letter in his apartment that suggests he might be in a village called Kozukata, so she heads off there and finds it's as welcoming as the Black Death. The villagers will drag their children away from outsiders and most of them either won't acknowledge your existence or else will answer your questions in monosyllables and/or lies.
They also have scarecrows. What's going on there is complicated.
I said it doesn't work as a movie. Nonami just isn't particularly interesting. She's personality-free and could almost have been a "paste your own face here" video game heroine. I never really cared about her or took much interest in what she was trying to do, while for the same reason the ending doesn't work.
Then there's the horror side, which has big problems. It's really rather good when it's being subtle and creepy, but the scarecrows don't work as oogie-boogies. The film's two worst moments both involve them. The first is when there's supposed to be a scarecrow jump scare, but far worse is the moment when scarecrows jump out and attack to the accompaniment of slasher movie music. This is a miscalculation. It shatters the film's mood with What comes across as a knee-jerk attempt at horror genre box-ticking.
However despite those problems, I found the movie quite interesting anyway. I'm a fan of Junji Ito. Stepping inside his imagination is like entering a world where even the laws of physics are no longer dependable. The universe no longer works as it should. It's just wrong, in an often subtle but fundamental way that strikes me as akin to what Lovecraft was trying to express with his horror of impossible angles and mathematics. Ito's Kozukata reminded me of Innsmouth. It doesn't have Deep Ones, but it does induce a similar level of paranoia just from spending time there. That woman with the pram... brrr. I like the accumulation of sinister or even just offputting details, be it the field of scarecrows, the hostile locals or the windmill.
It's not full-bore Junji Ito, mind you. It's at about 20% the strength of Uzumaki, but subtlety can be just as effective in its way as flat-out warping the audience's brains.
The people involved include a few names you might have heard of. Maho Nonami would be in 2LDK a couple of years later, but more importantly there's also Ko Shibasaki, aka. the scary bad girl in Battle Royale. This year she also won a ton of awards for her role in the film Go, including Best Supporting Actress from the Japanese Academy. We don't see much of her, but she brings plenty of screen presence when we do. Yoji Tanaka pops up as a policeman. As for the director, Tsuruta Norio, he's done plenty of horror. Of his films I've previously seen Ringu 0: Birthday and Premonition, but more recently he's also done Orochi - Blood, King's Game and P.O.V. - A Cursed Film. I liked both Ring 0 and Premonition, for what it's worth. Ring 0 brings unexpected dimensions of character work into a fundamentally sequel-resistant franchise, while Premonition makes a subtle and realistic film out of what might sound like a goofy premise (the Death Newspaper). I can see how Kakashi would fit into Norio's style.
There's also a Chinese actress, Grace Yip. Her Japanese is terrible, but that's okay because her character is Chinese too. I'd never heard of her before, but that's because her only screen acting credits (according to imdb) are in 1999-2001 and this is the last of them.
I wouldn't recommend this one, but I wouldn't entirely write it off either. It's an interesting failure. In some ways, it's doing Junji Ito rather well. It sucks you into a subtle world of undertones and accumulated wrongness which will give you the willies even when our heroine seems to be doing okay. This has a delicate verisimilitude that's entirely down to the director and the skill of the production, cinematography and design. They did well there. The dream sequences are important and the diary is particularly disturbing, even if the nice character who's willing to explain stuff feels a bit convenient. However be warned that this is a slow film that's kind of boring and only operating at half-power even by its own understated standards.
The scarecrow festival it portrays is a real event, by the way. It happens every autumn in Yamagata.