Genre: SUPERB Child-centric Ghost Story
review in one breath
This is a really a fun and effective movie. With the exception of a couple, less-than-perfect adults, the cast throughout are child actors through whose eyes and imaginations this wonderfully creative ghost story unfolds. The diversity of spooks presented here is quite impressive and makes this story more entertaining than merely waiting to see the same old ghost appear and reappear. This became an instant classic in Japan.
This 1995 film is directed by Hirayama Hideyuki who has nearly 30 films on his resume including the 1997 sequel to this film and the 2003 Makai Tensho (Samruai Resurrection). The effectiveness of Gakkou no Kaidan really set the tone and direction of a huge number of later films all using child and youth actors and involving the ubiquitous Japanese school building as the center of the horror. The good-natured core of this movie and its population of fun and believable characters really sets this film apart of many levels. It delivers a degree of wholesome spookiness that proved very difficult to replicate amongst the myriad films which followed.
The majority of the cast and narrative dialogue consists of elementary-aged child actors, most of whom went onto respectable and continuing acting careers. The one who perhaps shows up most frequently in the types of film SaruDama readers are familiar with is Yoki Miko who later went on to appear in Jisastu Circle/Suicide Circle (as Detective Kuroda's ultimately very bloody daughter) and Guuzen Ni Mo Saiaku na Shounen (in which she played a convincing corpse for the last two-thirds of the film).
The film spawned three directly related of which Hirayama also directed the second and fourth. A 2000 remake of the film directed by Abe Noriyuki modified the formula slightly by making it into a high school student horror. The following are links to my reviews of some of these others:
- Gakkou no Kaidan 1 - 1995 (current review)
Gakkou no Kaidan 2 - 1996
Gakkou no Kaidan 3 - 1997
Gakkou no Kaidan 4 - 1997 (I'm still looking for this one)
The story revolves around an unused wing of an elementary school. Among the school children, rumors abound that the wing is haunted, causing the adventurous or foolhardy among them to sneak into the abandoned building and poke around. When little third grader Mika disappears after following the sound of laughter into the third bathroom stall on the left (in a reference to Toire no Hanako-san) her 5th grade brother and an odd band of his classmates must go looking for her. Once inside the school, they hear the doors shut and lock behind them. Now trapped in the haunted school building, their spooky adventure begins.
This is indeed a ghost story, and before long, our brave band is experiencing very bizarre supernatural phenomena. Director Hirayama has done a wonderful job of creating a mixture of ghosts and situations the type of which our young adventurers could easily conjure up in their own imaginations and nightmares. The result is that our ghoulies are both frightening and funny, dangerous yet somehow less than murderous. The pudgy, translucent neon demon who sticks out his tongue while giving the kids a thumbs-up, the humongous (40 foot!) person lumbering down the darkened hallways, the pickled biology specimens suddenly come to life, are all as convincing and entertaining as they are spooky.
There is one ghoul, however, which does indeed seem intent on harming these kids, the ghost janitor who steadily morphs into a large spider-like creature. After discovering that it is the spider janitor who has captured Mika, wrapping her in a large web, the children must gather all their bravery and resources to rescue her and escape the school before being caught themselves. But escaping the school proves far more treacherous than they had imagined.
This is definitely one worth watching. It is a well-rounded and coherent tale with fun special effects and an entertaining cast of children. Though certainly fun for adults, this comes across as family fare and is easily appropriate (and spooky!) for children of the same age as our characters. There is little wonder why this created an instant demand for similar tales.
Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS
|The first in a series of very popular haunted school stories.||No blood or gore, but the poor janitor soon has large claws bursting from his head and body.||Uh, no. Though one third grade boy develops quite a crush on a fifth grade girl, and can't seem to take his eyes of her... uh, training bra.||Wonderful assortment of strange and spooky ghosts. The entire story is creative and effective.|