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March 2009 Archives

Sins of Sister Lucia
[Shudojo Lucia: Kegasu]

Genre: Nymphomaniac NUNsploitation!

review in one breath

Poor little Rumiko! First she steals a trunk load of money from her dear ol' daddy, then she seduces her impressionable plaid-wearing English tutor, and then she stabs somebody with a knife. What's a loving father to do other than ship her off to a convent which, it turns out, is modeled after Sodom and Gomorrah rather than any Heavenly City. But tough little Rumiko isn't having any of it and soon she brings the entire Naughty Nunnery to their knees, so to speak.

Late Bloomer
[Osoi Hito]

Genre: Realistic Spiral into Despair and Violence

review in one breath

A cerebral palsied man gradually falls in love with one of his care takers, but the emotional elation it causes brings with it a deepening despair as the gap between his dreams and physical reality prove overwhelming. In the face of unrequited love and the dismal realization that fate has dealt him a terrible hand, his imaginations grow violent -- imaginations he soon acts upon. This is a truly unique film which is both uncompromising and unapologetic in its depiction of a fully functional heart and mind trapped in a physical cage.

Kazuo Umezz's Horror Theater Vol 2
[The Present / Death Make]

Genre: Santa Slasher and Guppy Mantis Monster!

review in one breath

This is the third and last volume of the Kazuo Umezu Horror Theater collection and contains episodes five and six of the six-episode whole. Unlike the child-centric tales in volume 2, these two episodes are squarely aimed at adults, at least in terms of the horror and gore meted (meated?) out. In the first story, you better not cry, you better not pout... or Killer Santa will feed your BRAINS to his reindeer. In the second tale, a group of amateur clairvoyants gather to confront their inner demons, which may or may not turn out to be a giant fish-faced bug from Hell!

GeGeGe no Kitaro 2: Sennen Noroi Uta
[Kitaro and the Millennium Curse]

Genre: Youkai-filled Supernatural Thriller

review in one breath

GeGeGe no Kitaro is back! And this time he must solve the mystery of a 1000 year old curse exacting its toll on humans and monsters alike. In a more adult-centric episode, with a darker storyline, a myriad of creepy creatures and more mature special effects, this live-action version of Mizuki Shigeru's beloved manga character will not disappoint. This is the second live-action film directed by Motoki Katsuhide focusing on the exploits of the half-human, half-youkai Kitaro.

L: Change The World
[Death Note 3 ]

Genre: Non-Supernatural Crime Procedural

review in one breath

Picking up where the two Death Note films leave off, mastermind L has only 23 days to foil a global plot involving chemical weapons and thereby save the world! At his side throughout are Near, a 6 year-old mathematical genius and Mika, a genetically aberrational school girl. With evil-doers hot on their trail, the clock is ticking as L and his pre-pubescent sidekicks try to isolate the threat and create an antidote to the deadly weaponized virus. This is a spin-off sequel to the Death Note narrative and is directed by "Ringu" director Hideo Nakata.

The influence of one's uttermost passion in life may very well become a driving obsession even after you have died, or so A Dead Secret strongly suggest. This sad amd mysterious ghost story strikes several chords with traditional Japanese views of love, death and the stoic concealment of one's innermost desires, even following death.

Taking place in the ancient province of Tamba (contemporary Kyoto), the life of the beautiful maiden O-Sono seemed one of joy and hope. Only after death does her ghost betray any evidence that her truest heart had been elsewhere.

Recorded in Lafcadio Hearn's classic Kwaidan, The Dream of Akinosuke brings together several strands of traditional folklore around the central premise that even insects can manipulate and possess the human spirit. In the case of Akinosuke, he is literally whisked away for what seems to him decades on an adventure involving nobility, love and valor.

It is a wonderful story which simultaneously speaks of the fleeting nature of human experience and the value of upright character and honor.

In Japanese folklore the female demon (oni) Hannya figures prominently. Often depicted in traditional Noh and Bunraku plays using a wooden mask of a fierce and grimacing horned demon, this malicious entity may be Japan's most well-known demon.

You may even recognize this mask as being the symbol of darkest moral depravity in Onibaba.

An ancient legend recalls how the female Hannya persecuted all who attempted to pass through the Rashomon gate of Kyoto. A staunch samurai named Watanabe no Tsuna decided to lay in wait for the demon in order to slay it, until he was eventually persuaded by a beautiful young woman to escort her into town. As they travelled, Watanabe happened to glance over his shoulder and saw the young woman transforming into a terrifying demon. As the demon then laid hold of Watanabe, he quickly wielded his sword and cut off the monster's arm. As Hannya fled screaming, Watanabe carefully wrapped the severed arm and later hid it in a secured chest.

This tale takes place in the Tokugawa/Edo Era (1615-1867) and centers on the fate of a feudal peasant farmer working for a powerful property owner of the Hatamoto clan. Feudalism, by its most basic definition, refers to a socio-political system wherein landowners allow tenants to occupy and agricult their land. These tenants have no ownership rights, but simply live on the land and there make their livelihood.

Such tenants (aka "vassals") thus found themselves in a notoriously bad situation should either hard times or a mean spirit befall the landowner, who had full power to either evict or heavily tax at whim any and all of his tenants. Historically, feudalistic eras, whether in Europe or Japan, have always ended in some form of peasant revolt.

The Ghost of Sakura is an ancient Japanese ghost story revolving around the fate of a good natured tenant at the hands of a greedy and immoral landowner. It also involves the karmic expectation that justice is often meted out even from beyond the grave.

This is a rather long story, so give yourself enough time to enjoy it. The following text, including the introduction and the notes, is taken from Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford's Tales of Old Japan, dated 1910.

One of the primary reasons traditional ink painting (sumi-ie) was so widely used to express Zen concepts was their shared core principle of "complexity through simplicity". Ink, after all, is only black and yet the skilled artist can create with this single hue an awe-inspiring array of varieties, scenes and imaginations -- infinite complexities through a single simplicity of black ink.

It is in the very same principle that Oshidori is an amazingly rich Kwaidan tale. Though short on words, it opens wide Japanese core intuitions regarding animism, reincarnation, karmic love, and noble suicide. All this in a very brief tale which raises more questions than it answers.

Some folk tales of the Japanese point toward a particular event or ghoulish monster which the reader, if lucky, shall never truly encounter. There are other tales, however, which are aimed at explaining phenomena that we mortals cannot possibly escape, and the following tale is precisely of this sort.

Perhaps more theological than superstitious this tale was contained in a "fragment" of a text happened upon by Lafcadio Hearn. The force of the tale is undeniable even to contemporary readers who are indebted to him for preserving it for Western audiences in his 1898 collection entitled In Ghostly Japan.

Greetings Peeps!

We here at SaruDama have been working hard (?) to improve your web surfing experience, so here are a few site upgrades you may be interested in:

1. You now (once again) have the ability to comment on reviews and posts, so let's hear your feedback!

2. I've (finally!) converted all of our 320 plus reviews into the new database along with meta data (such as year, director, categories and tags) to each. This allows for a much faster and efficient perusal of the site. For example, you can now click on the director's name on any review to access a list of all his/her films we have reviewed on SaruDama.

3. Our movie review index has been updated and enhanced. In addition to year and director, you can now search by genre and sub-genre. I've also streamlined the search engine to speed up search results.

4. The site's own Search function is now fully operational, meaning it will search through and return matching results from ALL of SaruDama's content.

5. I've upgraded the site to MT 4.23 in the hopes of increasing the site's speed and felxibility. So far so good.

6. I will be limiting the amount of Japanese unicode in my posts. It will result in a loss of some useful info (for those of you who read Japanese) but ensures that the browsers of most/all site visitors will be able to successfully render the web pages.

7. And lastly, I've noticed that some of the pages take a little too long to load due to the size of the logo images I am using. I will be optimizing these in the near future, so hopefully you will see a quicker response time.

That's it for now. As always, thanks for your interest in the site. I hope you find it all useful.

~ Sincerely, mongip

The sad and haunting tale of Yuki Onna (??) consists of all the requisite elements of a truly classic traditional ghost story. The ferocity of the Yuki Onna who can be both horrific and deadly at will, also displays a deep compassion and sadness. In this way she is depicted not only as a mountain ghoul but as wholly feminine in her heartfelt contemplations.

Juxtaposed her near-divine status is the character of Minokichi, an innocent and naive young man who although possesses a good heart inevitably displays the moral and mental fraility of humans. Giddily failing to uphold a promise he swore to, Minokichi foolishly brings himself once again face to face with a terrifying Death.

The Tale of Rokuro-Kubi is simultaneously a hero legend and a ghost tale. Its main character is a well-known warrior-turned-priest whose many fearless exploits include this encounter with a particularly terrifying species of mountain demons, the rokuro-kubi.

Apart from informing audiences of the nature of these monsters, this is thoroughly an exhortation of bravery, steadfastness and calm wit of the classic samurai tradition. Readers will notice that although the warrior-priest is indeed characterized as pious and prayerful, it is nevertheless his fearless samurai skill which allows him to prevail in this tale.

The species of rokuro-kubi has been depicted in Japanese folk tales and folk art for centuries. The following story was recorded in 1903 by Lafcadio Hearn. It is notable that he dates this story as occurring 500 years prior to his writing.

Tokyo Sonata

Genre: Personal, Familial and Social Crises in Contemporary Japan

review in one breath

When a Tokyo salaryman loses his job, his personal identity and family stability are suddenly forced to the point of implosion. Hiding his shameful predicament from his family, he leaves the house daily as if going to the office, only to spend his hours in food lines and the unemployment agency. Despite his every effort to keep things intact, his family's cohesion slowly disintegrates as forces internal and external come to a head. This is the latest film by director Kiyoshi Kurosawa and marks an intentional break from his previous work in psycho-horror.

The animistic core of traditional Japanese sensibilities has produced (literally) volumes of folk tales depicting animals as possessing the most noble and contemplative of human qualities. The list of examples is endless, but the following tale provides an excellent glimpse into this tradition.

Just as the world of traditional youkai (??) encompasses both good and evil beings, so also the animistic realm of animals harbours both benevolent and malicious characters. Here, an elderly couple learns this very fact through a tragic unfolding of event in which they find themselves at the utter mercy of what we otherwise inclined to deem harmless animals.

[Yukoku / The Rite of Love and Death ]

Genre: Minimalist Depiction of Mishima's "Patriotic" Ideology

review in one breath

Directed, produced and acted by the infamous writer/political idealogue Yukio Mishima, this short, minimalist and stark film offers an unflinching depiction of Mishima's personal and political ideology. Filmed just four years prior to his suicide, the undeniable similarity between this film's narrative and Mishima's own personal demise caused the film to be "destroyed" at his wife's request shortly thereafter. In 2005, following his widow's death, the film was re-released. It is nothing short of fascinating, particularly for those familiar with the political views and death of Mishima.

The tale Of A Mirror and a Bell actually encompasses two tales, woven together by the superstitious notion of nazoraeru (???) wherein one object is spiritually replaced by another.

In addition to the tales themselves, of considerable import here is Hearn's explanation of the "little man of straw" which if impaled "with nails not less than five inches long, to some tree in a temple-grove at the Hour of the Ox" is done with the intent that "the person, imaginatively represented by that little straw man, should die thereafter in atrocious agony".

Not only does a version of this imagery appear in Western horror such as Blair Witch, but it also permeates traditional Japanese depictions of midnight witches adorned with a crown of lit candles. (For example, a very haunting depiction of this appears in the contemporary film Onmyoji.)

When I first saw the film Haunted Lantern I did not realize that it so faithfully followed a century-old tale entitled Botan Dourou (Flower Lantern). Performed initially by a theatre group in Tokyo during the Meiji-Era, the tale slowly made its way to the West through the writings of Lafcadio Hearns. In his In Ghostly Japan written in 1898, Hearns provides a translation the theatrical version which he himself attended.

The tale itself is said to tap into core Japanese intuitions and superstitions regarding karmic love, fated destinies, and the afterlife. Though slightly different from the original, director Yamamato Satsuo's 1968 film Haunted Lantern retains a wide range of Botan Dourou's original elements from character names and ranks to the golden statue of Buddha.

Below is Lafcadio Hearn's retelling of the tale as told in his In Ghostly Japan.


Genre: Taisho Era Artistic Spiral Into Madness

review in one breath

Artist Yumeji has gained fame and recognition for his skills at painting as well as notoriety for his untamed lifestyle. Despite his betrothal to a beautiful and timid young woman of high birth, his libido turns to his many female models. Despite this freedom from constraint, his lust and artistic sentiment cause him nothing but an increasing awareness of the elusive embodiment of true Beauty. While traveling he encounters a mesmerizing widow who relentlessly searches for her husband's body in the nearby lake, believing him killed at the hands of a ferocious roaming bandit. Infatuated with her beauty, he feigns to help her look for the corpse, only to unlock the mystery himself thereby sending him to further depths of debauchery and despair. This is the third and final film in director Suzuki Seijun's critically acclaimed Taisho Trilogy.

Welcome to the New New Wave

Horror Fans! Please take note:

There is a new and innovative project underway which will prove to be a first of its kind. British film makers Tom Atkinson and Luke Dormehl have pioneered the notion of an exclusively fan-based horror film, using the internet as the primary medium of promotion and funding. The 10 Pound Horror Film has thus far received the blessing and support of an international array of horror directors and droves of horror enthusiasts and fans.

You are invited to join and participate in the development and production of this horror film through a contribution of "10 pounds" ($14 US). Fan-based support is the SOLE source of film funding, thus truly making this the first grassroots funded horror film. In addition to simply being part of this rather fun and cutting-edge project, your contribution will get you stuff, including a free personalized frame of the film (a piece of horror film history!) and membership benefits including access to exclusive film content and director-moderated discussion forums.

SaruDama encourages you to check this out and consider contributing to the project. Its a small amount of money and the effort is indeed ground-breaking. The internet has provided a very successful platform for groundswell support in various instances, from political to artistic. Now its time for we of the online fan-base to rock the horror film industry!

Let the world know we support and encourage new, viewer-centric horror films!

For more about the project, membership benefits and how to contribute your 10 pounds, check out The 10 Pound Horror Film site.

Passed down as common lore among residents of Tokyo for at least a century, most Japanese not only know the Tale of Mujina but many will gleefully tell you the tale with an excited shiver and gleam in their eye. Though brief, it conjures up not only the terrifying prospects of walking along darkened roads at night, but also wholly grounds in a very particular and identifiable location within Tokyo, making it all the more palpable to residents.

This tale first made its way to the West through the uniquely mystifying writings of Lafcadio Hearn's over a century ago in his now infamous work entitled Kwaidan.

Below you will find the complete version of this classic Kwaidan tale.

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