Friday, July 18, 2014

Fantasia Days -02 & -01: Ju-on: White Ghost, Ju-on: Black Ghost

Much like there is no Year Zero in the Christian calendar, there is no Day 00 when talking about festivals. If you're watching stuff on screeners or otherwise in preparation, that's day minus one and so on back. My blog, my rules, even if I am a count-from-zero guy most of the time.

And why, pray tell, am I doing this? Because there's a new Ju-on sequel playing the festival, and while it will almost certainly ignore the two direct-to-video short features made in 2009, what if it doesn't? These things can be hard enough to keep track of without missing pieces, and the Blu-ray Well Go put out a few years back was on my shelf anyway, so I figured I might as well check them out.

Oddly, Well Go lists White Ghost and Black Ghost as separate movies on the back of the packaging, but they are encoded as one long feature, with the credits for both at the end. I'm not sure why they'd do that unless there's some weird licensing fee for the encoding involved or something.

Ju-on: Shiroi Rojo (Ju-on: White Ghost)

* * (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2014 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival prep, Blu-ray)

The Ju-on/The Grudge series burned bright and fast in the 2000s, going from direct-to-video to theatrical features in Japan before jumping the Pacific, doing two American features before dropping to DTV status in the USA and then mostly disappearing, having already started to get self-referential in the second Japanese feature, right along the time it was becoming a general target of parody. As a last gasp, two short direct-to-video features were produced simultaneously in 2009. To see them is to understand why things have been quiet on the Ju-on front until this year's relaunch - as much as it seems like an open-ended plot ripe for extension, these flicks made the mine look pretty tapped out.

White Ghost opens with Fumiya Hagimoto (Hiroki Suzuki) delivering a Christmas cake to the Isobe family, only to have the mother say she is tied up like she was in a loop. When he investigates, he finds her and her entire family dead. That's not the only mystery; seven years ago, Hajime Kashiwagi (Ichirota Miyakawa) vanished after dropping his daughter Akane off at cram school; now the teenaged Akane (Akina Minami) seems to have some sort of psychic abilities which flare up big time when her friends produce a homemade spirit board.

Like the previous Ju-on: The Grudge movies written and directed by Takashi Shimizu (credited as a "supervising producer" here), this one written and directed by Ryuta Miyake a series of five or ten minute vignettes (there are eight in this sixty-minute movie), introduced with a character's name and telling the portion of the story from his or her perspective, jumping back and forth in time as necessary. It's not a bad trick for building mystery, as you can end as many segments as you like on bizarre cliffhangers with the implied promise of getting back to them later, but when you make your film into a puzzle, is expected that the solution be clever, and Miyake seldom really manages that. The movie gets its jumps, but rather than having the aha! moment where things come together in twisted fashion, White Ghost practically winds up running down a checklist, never really putting a twist on material that, while horrific, doesn't rise to the level of a rate-powered stain on the world.

Full review at EFC

Ju-on: Kuroi Rojo (Ju-on: Black Ghost)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2014 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival prep, Blu-ray)

The good news about Ju-on: Black Ghost is that it's better than the other short feature it was stitched to for American home video (Ju-on: White Ghost). Not by a huge margin, but by just enough that you can see where writer/director Mari Asato has the right idea of how to tell a story that fits the franchise but stands on its own as well.

Though Asato gets at the story via Tetsuya (Koji Seto) and Yuko (Ai Kago) - a young man and the nurse next door he has a crush on - the story truly centers on Fukie (Hana Matsumoto), a teenage girl not coping with her parents' divorce very well. It currently seems to be manifesting as seizures, but the doctors can't find anything physically wrong with her, and weird stuff is starting to happen around her - strange enough for mother Kiwako (Maria Takagi) to call her sister Mariko (Yuri Nakamura), a purported psychic, to help.

What's actually going on is a fairly neat subject for a ghost story on its own (one I think I've seen elsewhere although titles are not leaping to mind), although one that could be kickstarted by the idea of these metaphysical grudges. While there is a digression or two, Asato keeps it focused on Fukie's story. The puzzle-box format of these movies is not as prominent here as elsewhere, but there's a certain heft to it, a curiosity on the audience's part as to what sort of rage is hiding within the sweet-seeming Fukie to lead to the murdered family hinted at early on.

Full review at EFC

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