Tag

What do Battle Royale, Final Destination, Mulholland Drive, The Walking Dead, Existenz, Lost, 8&1/2, Forrest Gump, and Primer all have in common? On the surface, not a lot, but Sion Sono cares not for such concerns and instead finds his own connections in weaving this absurdist film about a person becoming unstuck in time and reality while being stalked by a powerful, murderous force. If you’re looking for a linear plot A to Plot B film, you’d be better placed heading out to the latest blockbuster but if you’re keen on something shape-shifting, ambiguous, and hypnotic you have come to the right place.

Sion Sono is no stranger to wiping out huge swathes of people. If you’ve seen Suicide Club you’ll know he’s a fan of sudden shocking moments, usually involvement mass death, and sometimes focusing on school girls. Tag starts out with a knowing homage to his previous work, as its already infamous opening scene sees two school buses filled with teenage girls sliced into pieces in an instant, leaving a single blood-soaked, bewildered survivor. That’s not a spoiler as it has made up various trailers over the past couple of years and has popped up on a variety of horror and extreme cinema sites, as well as happening in the opening minutes and being the catalyst for everything that follows. Our protagonist flees, running from what seems to be a sentient wind which cuts into any poor soul she begs for help. There’s nothing like killing around fifty people in the first six minutes of your movie to put a smile on my face.

From there it only gets more interesting, or weird, or off-putting depending on your preference. Describing in detail anything else that happens, plot-wise, would be bordering on spoiler territory and likely be futile. This is Sion Sono having fun; for his own pleasure, at our expense, at life in general, and finally because he’s good at it. It’s his art horror film – lots of stylized shots, close-ups of faces, floating feathers, leaves, panty shots, and a lot of running. Merged with these are frequent outbursts of action and violence which are often funny and can be shocking, even with the somewhat dodgy visual effects.

I don’t think there is any deeper meaning here beyond what one character says on our behalf – basically life is surreal and is often beyond our control, so just get on with it as best you can. It helps if you look good in a Wedding dress and if you imagine The Walking Dead theme tune accompanying your every move. Sono dabbles in issues like fate, AI, the passage of time, futility, mortality, so by all means you are free to read the film on any level you desire. In my mind, the broken mind of a tortured cynic, it’s all meaningless except for taking it at its most superficial level – as another entertaining film from the crazed brain of Sion Sono.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Tag!

Suicide Club

After I first got into J-Horror, and Asian Cinema in general, I began to compile lists of all the must see movies. Buying those lovely Tartan Asia Extreme DVDs by the basket load helped, as each came with a bunch of trailers for related films or ‘titles coming soon’. Suicide Club grabbed my eye fairly early on – how could it not, what with its amusingly macabre premise, trailer and synopsis? Who wouldn’t want to watch a film which opens with a bunch of school-girls throwing themselves under the wheels of a train? Idiots, that’s who!

The film uses shock value to get punters into seats and to appease the sort of weirdos like me who would choose to watch something like this, but shock value is not at the centre of the story. There’s a lot more to Suicide Club, but it struggles to fit in any niche. While the film does begin with some out of place music playing over the scenes of the train approaching, the girls holding hands, and the girls jumping, the hilarious blood effects are over the top enough to make you assume it’s some ridiculous comedy. Then it becomes a detective mystery. Then it becomes a horror. Then it becomes a satire before finally going completely off the rails (pardon the pun). It’s a film which I can only imagine doesn’t know what it wants to be, and none of the things it tries to be are pulled off very well. There is little weight put onto the subject of suicide, the satire directed at the subject of cults isn’t particularly pointed, and the mystery is so convoluted as to never be adequately understood. If anything it’s the early moments which work best – before you really know anything and your imagination is left to fill in the blanks. These take place in some sort of hospital where the tension is racked admirably high thanks to an open window, a couple of nurses, and a night watchman. It was in these moments that the slow pace and bizarre twists conspired to make me believe that a long-haired ghost was going to pop out.

Unfortunately these scenes soon give way as we meet the cops tasked with working out what the hell is going on and why all these people are killing themselves. What’s tying the victims together? Are they even victims in the first place? Who’s the creepy kid who keeps phoning the cops and offering philosophical vagueries? What’s with the sports bag left at the scenes of death? Is the pop group significant? Who is going to be next? You’ll be asking yourself these questions as much as the characters are – Sion Sono seems to finding his feet as a director as much as anything – playing with expectation but in the end abandoning a coherent story with involving characters for a spattering of themes and violence which only loosely ties together. The film will certainly stay with you, and may be more rewarding with a second viewing, but the director has since gone on to make vastly more essential films.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Suicide Club!

Ju On – White Ghost

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It has been quite some time since I first watched The Grudge and loved every second of it. Since then I watched the original Japanese TV movies (which The Grudge is a sequel of even though it seems like a remake) and the director Takashi Shimizu’s own US remake. I haven’t actually watched the US The Grudge 2 (also directed by Shimizu) and US The Grudge 3 (not Shimizu) partly due to bad reviews and partly due to Part 3 sounding like a straight to video mess. And of course partly because I was burned out on J Horror by that time. Black Ghost and White Ghost had been popping up on my Amazon Prime Viewer for quite some time but I’d avoided them as they sounded like even worse straight to video cash ins, but I finally relented and gave them a shot. Made to honour the 10th Anniversary of the series, these are two stories which deviate from the main plot of the main series, but are they any good!?

White Ghost, like it’s partner and predecessors has a labyrinthine plot which unravels in a deliberately non-linear fashion – events at the start of the film may happen weeks or months after events shown at the end, and vice versa, and more than that there appear to be certain elements which transcend time – echos of events which have not yet occurred. The story follows a group of characters who come into contact with a curse – a man murders his family, an old friend investigates, and several randomers are drawn into the pit. As I said in my review for Black Ghost, it is definitely worth watching each movie twice to appreciate the finer points and attempt to bring together a timeline in your head. Ironically, I fond this plot even more dense than Black Ghost but it appears to be handled more professionally. There is a lot of leaping about from time to time to character to place and back again, but it is engrossing.

There is some fairly dark stuff at work here – the murders and the curse of course, but an unsettling lump of incest, pedophilia, and suicide, none of which are shied away from. It’s unusual for a film in the Ju On universe to dwell much on the events which kicked everything off – mostly it’s shown in brief flashbacks, but here we are front row witnesses to the slaughter. This one is less atmospheric than Black Ghost, but still has plenty of tension and has more jump scares. The actual character of the White Ghost is not on par with Kayako, but her appearances rarely fail to scare to the point that you are dreading her next pop up. A few of these moments don’t quite work, and end up being almost funny, but for the most part the scares are particularly effective. That strange shimmering effect I mentioned in the other review is present here too. Again the performances are good, the soundtrack works well, and there is a grimy worn out look to proceedings. I watched Black Ghost first, but the stories don’t link together in any way so feel free to pick whichever you wish. BG has the atmosphere, WG has the bulk of the scares, but both are well worth a go for J-Horror fans.

So, who would I recommend this to? Grudge fans obviously, first and foremost. This doesn’t fill in any gaps from the main series or provide any resolution, rather it seems to be a similar story set in the same universe. There isn’t enough time to form much attachment to the characters, the plot is convoluted and non-linear, and the scares don’t offer anything new. With all that said, I enjoyed it, I was a little scared in places, and the idea still intrigues me as much as the execution. You won’t lose much by sacrificing an hour – so if you find this on streaming, give it a shot.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of White Ghost and how it compares to Black Ghost and the other movies in The Grudge franchise.

Still Walking

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Like many others, I am an Otaku horror nerd; I love everything horror, and I love everything Japan, and have for as long as I can remember. Between bouts of decapitation and and viscera I like to slow things, and if there is a people who know a thing or two about slow paced dramas, it’s the Japanese. Still Walking, even in its title, suggests a leisurely pace and features all of the poignant, emotive, and thought-provoking moments I look for to cleanse myself of the darkness which I have bore witness to.

Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, one of Japan’s most famous and respected directors of his generation, Still Walking is a ruminating drama on family, aging, life, and death. The story is set almost entirely in a single house over the course of roughly 24 hours as three generations of a family meet to commemorate the death of one of their own, fifteen years earlier. I was expecting the film to center on one character or specific set, but Koreeda avoids this and instead shows how each person present has coped over the time since the death and how their lives have been changed.

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The parents of the son who died are symbolic of how Westerners would view some elements of Japanese society – they don’t show their emotions often and instead prefer to withdraw from discussions about grief and possible arguments. It is particularly the father, played by Yoshio Harada, who clearly harbors ill feelings and guilt but cannot vocalize them while his wife (Kirin Kiki) seems more keen to remember the good times. Their remaining son (Hiroshi Abe) has unresolved feelings of anger as he feels he has always been rated second best versus the brother, both when he was alive and even more now he is dead – he didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps and become a local doctor. He dreads attending these events as he doesn’t want to be there and feels his parents resent the fact that he lived when his brother died – and the drama is increased by the fact that he has married a widow (who has her own son). Naturally, this causes tension for the mother and father. On the flip side we have the sister (played by You – Ehika Yukiko and her extraordinary voice) and her husband and children who offer a comedic and neutral ground. Throughout all this the metaphor of walking and progression is prevalent – the father always walks round the town every day, even though he is getting slower and more reluctant, the mother always takes the long and brutally steep walk to her son’s grave, and the other characters continue to carry and cope with their respective burdens – what else can you do?

This isn’t the easiest film to review as I can either give more paragraphs outlining plot, yet there isn’t much to say of the plot aside from what is given above. The performances all feel genuine and the direction veers between claustrophobic and freeing when necessary – we get both interior and exterior shots of the cramped conditions the family live and talk in, and there is a visual and tonal difference between the conversations about the negative and harsh stuff versus those more pleasant, happy, or sad memories – the tense speeches usually in a car or a cramped room, and escaping or resolving those by stepping out into the world. The film doesn’t sound exciting on paper, but it does weave an unusual spell over the viewer – perhaps it’s because all of us have encountered feelings or situations like this in the past, or on a regular basis, perhaps it’s a combination of the performances, Koreeda’s skill, and how lovely the film looks. If you are familiar with the director’s work or have been looking for a place to start, if you are at all interested in Japanese film or culture, or if you simply want a break from action, gore, convoluted plots, and gritty blockbusters, give Still Walking a chance.

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Have you seen Still Walking – how does it rate alongside Koreeda’s other work? Let us know in the comments!