Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Welcome back Sporefans! In response to your requests for more creepy Asian horror movies, I started digging through my collection to find a movie that met with the following two criteria.

1) Is an Asian horror movie.
2) The movie is also a bad movie.

I am pleased to say that I did find a couple of movies that I thought were pretty bad. I'm sure that there will be some people who disagree with me about this movie, but I stand by my opinion in this matter. Today's review is for the 1999 movie "Shikoku".

Shikoku is the smallest main island of Japan, and its name literally translates into "Four Countries". Here's a small bit of trivia for some of you, the symbol for "four" and the symbol for "death" in Japan are pronounced exactly the same: "Shi". The title of the movie is a play on words, but I'm pretty sure I've seen some other movie titled "Land of the Dead" somewhere else.

By the way, none of this is to be confused with "Sudoku", which is a game you can play here.

The movie takes place on the island of Sudoku, er... Shikoku, in a small town in the Kochi prefecture. The movie starts with 3 young children, Hinako, Fumiya and Sayori. There are a bunch of childhood scenes chopped together to try and provide back ground information for the 3 main characters, but the scenes are pretty quick and you might be confused as to what's going on. It appears that Sayori is a spriritualist medium who channels dead children so that they can speak to their parents.

Hinako is Sayori's friend who sees one of the "channeling sessions" and later almost drowns. Sayori saves Hinako from drowning in a small stream. Then Hinako moves to Tokyo.

Fumiya is the boy. That's about all you need to know about Fumiya.

The movie really gets started when Hinako (now played by Yui Natsukawa) comes back to the small village to settle affairs after her mother's death. She runs into an old classmate who tells her that Sayori drowned at the age of 16. She also meets up with Fumiya (now played by Michitaka Tsutsui), and despite his gangliness she finds herself attracted to him.

Unfortunately for Hinako, Fumiya is still hung up on his previous girlfriend, which is quite a feat as Fumiya's previous girlfriend drowned at 16. I wonder who they're talking about. Anyway, this makes the plot a love triangle story with one participant being a ghost.

The famous Japanese awkward silence. I think someone farted.

This movie is really divided into three parts. In the first part, Fumiya and Hinako walk around the village during festival time, talking about how great Sayori was. If you like watching people talk in front of the beautiful Japanese countryside, this part is for you. Its also the best part of the movie.

Check out that view!

In the second phase, Fumiya and Hinako realize that they're attracted to each other, and start to remember that Sayori was not as great a person as you were lead to believe in the first part of the movie. The obnoxious classmate reveals to Hinako that "Sayori said that you stuck to her like crap stuck to a goldfish. She really resented you after you moved to Tokyo." The tactless classmate also reveals that Sayori always resented Hinako for moving because Sayori's dream was to leave the village, but Sayori's mother (played by Toshie Negishi) wanted her to carry on the line of their family spiritualist's practitioners.

The Japanese sure do know how to turn a phrase.

After the blunt force revelation from Hinako's tactless classmate, Hinako remembers some other shocking secrets about Sayori. For example, Hinako remembers that not only did Sayori save Hinako from drowning, Sayori was the one who threw Hinako into the stream in the first place and then held her head underwater. What a silly thing to repress!

Fumiya also reveals that when he was with Sayori was very possessive of him when they were going out, and that she was the one who "wore the pants" in their relationship. Like a whipped dog, Fumiya keeps looking around, presumably as he keeps seeing Sayori's ghost out of the corner of his eye.

Now at this point I need to point something out. Something I haven't mentioned in the review yet. I've put in the names of the actors who play the adult Hinako and Fumiya when they appear as their adult forms in the review, but I've been saving an extra special introduction for Sayori.

Sayori is played by Chiaki Kuriyama. If that name doesn't ring an instant bell, click here.


While all of this is going on, Sayori's mother, who has gone mad with grief is attempting to perform a corrupted version of an ancient rite. The proper ceremony involves traveling to all of the 88 temples of the Shikoku island in the proper order to seal the island off from the land of the dead. Or something like that.

According to the movie, if someone travels to the temples in the reverse order they can open the gates to the realm of the dead. The person must perform this pilgrimage (all 88 temples) repeatedly, once for each year the person who they are trying to resurrect was alive. Sayori's mother is about to complete her 16th and final trip, which will allow Sayori to be brought back to life. The catch is supposed to be that opening the doorway to the realm of the dead will allow all the dead back into the realm of the living.

All of them.

As Sayori's mother gets closer to completing the pilgrimage, the ghost of Sayori becomes stronger and stronger, and after Hinako and Fumiya spend some "quality time" together, Sayori's ghost shows up and gets all creepy possessive of Fumiya.

Don't you hate it when creepy dead girls read over your shoulder? Its really annoying!

This concludes the second portion of the movie. Up to this point, the movie seems to be progressing really well. Things are ominous, but nothing really creepy has happened yet. I was lead to expect that some really scary stuff was to come after this point, but I was wrong. Right after this point, the movie really falls apart. It not only fails to seal the deal, it fails in a spectacular way, so you're left feeling ripped off and disgusted.

Nooooo! The movie is going all wrong!

The problem with this movie is that right after Sayori's mother completes the trip and brings her back to life it gets really... emotional. Like high school emotional. And by that I mean there's a lot of angst.

Also, there's a plot hole the size of a small Japanese island that keeps popping up. What is it, you ask? Remember that whole speech about all the dead coming back to life? Skip it. It turns out that only Sayori comes back to life. All those other dead people? Well, they just don't show up. I guess they really didn't want to live.

Sayori climbs out of a pool of slimy green water in a cave and her mother takes her home and cleans her up. Sayori stumbles around like a drunk, slurring her speech and complaining about the bright light of candles. Sayori's mother hugs her and tells her that everything is going to be all right, and that she can now fulfill her destiny as the Priestess of the village... which is what Sayori has been trying to avoid her whole life.

This is when she reveals her awesome new power... she hugs people to death. Yes, Sayori accidentally kills her own mother, by hugging her, and squeezing her and calling her George.

Sayori hugs you and squeezes you and calls you George, just like the big red monster from those old Bugs Bunny cartoons. Or the abominable snowman.

Enter the plot hole! With the gateway to the land of the dead open, why doesn't Sayori's mother simply walk back home from the land of the dead? Oops!

Eventually the love triangle heads back to the sacred cave and the pool of slimy water, where Fumiya, Hinako and that drunk Sayori have their inevitable showdown. After an exchange by the two girls who have been fighting over Fumiya the whole movie, Fumiya is faced with a choice.

Option A: Fumiya can choose to leave with Hinako, a pretty and well off woman in her early 20's. He can then leave the village and live happily ever after with her in Tokyo.

Option B: Fumiya can choose a dead and then reanimated Japanese schoolgirl who may or may not attempt to eat his brains, and who will spend the rest of his life controlling everything that Fumiya does on a psychotic level.

You may think the choice here is obvious, but you forgot one thing about Japanese men. They love schoolgirls. And just like that, Fumiya runs to the arms of Sayori... who hugs him and loves him and squeezes him and calls him George until his spine pops and all his ribs break.

Oh baby I totally love yo..uuurrrgghhhkkk!!!

I think the knight from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" said it best at the end of the movie when he said "He chose... poorly." You know that scene, the one where the guy aged 1000 years after drinking out of the wrong cup? Yeah, it was exactly like that.

Eventually a mountain monk shows up and helps Hinako get Sayori into the pool of slimy water. The monk holds Sayori in the pool with a spell... or something... and tells Hinako that she should scatter the sacred rocks and staves and break the gateway to the land of the dead. Hinako, remembering at the worst possible time the childhood friendship she and Sayori shared, hesitates.

Then, the half dead Fumiya jumps into the pool and he and Sayori disappear, leaving Hinako standing there alive, alone, and rejected by her man once again. This really has to drive the point home because not only did Fumiya get crushed, but he willingly climbed into a pool of slimy water and died instead of staying with Hinako. That's some pretty harsh rejection right there.

You gotta give Fumiya this: he really goes to great lengths to hit that 16 year old reanimated dead chick. That's some hard core dedication. Or necrophilia, I can't remember which.

The last segment of the movie seemed to me to try and show exactly how pathetic each of the three main characters was. Sayori, now alive and no longer quite as creepy is stumbling about half blind looking only to reclaim Fumiya. Fumiya is even more pathetic for embracing his emasculation at the hands of Sayori. But I think the real winner is Hinako, for not only losing her boyfriend to a dead girl, but having that same dead girl give her a speech about how pathetic Hinako is, and then just standing there quietly as she accepts those words as truth.

You... picked... the... dead girl?!?!


In looking at the end of this movie, I find myself terribly disappointed. This movie is billed as Horror/Thriller but contains no scenes that are meant to frighten the audience. Even the scenes of Sayori's "hauntings" are only meant to demonstrate Sayori's unwillingness to let Fumiya go, not to intimidate or frighten. The ending is much more like a badly written high school romance story than a horror movie, full of rejection and angst.

The actors all did a great job, and the locations are amazing, but this film is flawed by bad writing, bad direction and bad camera work. There are several scenes where is becomes obvious that the use of a hand held camera was a bad choice. What works for an intense scene in "Homicide: Life on the Street" doesn't work on a shot when Fumiya notices Hinako across a crowded festival ground, it only makes the viewer sea sick.

At least the scenery is pretty.

Ultimately this movie leads us up to believe that its going to be really good, and then craps out at the end. Its a hard feeling to describe, but I think the best way to put it would be finding out that you're at a "legitimate" massage parlor when you're already on the table and you were looking to go to a massage parlor of the "shady" variety; you'll feel stressed out, embarrassed and unsatisfied. I think that's why they call it a "Crappy ending".

On a technical note, the original video I planned to post kept crashing my site, but you can watch it here. Instead, watch Chiaki Kuriyama kill the crap out of some guy in Battle Royale. And be warned, its bloody.


esuarez said...

They crammed all that into 2 hours? Not much time for exposition. Oh wait, probably alot of time for exposition.

I'd chose hug of death as well

Christopher said...

I forget, it's been a while since I saw this... When she went to the temples on the pilgrimage, did Sayori's mother have to fight one of the Crazy 88 at each temple to bring Go Go back?

Man, I think we've played video games like that.

Spored_to_Death said...

If she had to fight one of the crazy 88 at each temple, then the movie would have been interesting. In this case, they would sit down and talk about their feelings. But they would be quiet and polite, there would be no crying. Crying would be rude after all.

min said...

who doesn't love battle royale?

is she wrapping her victims in sheets before she hugs them to death? where did she get a sheet?