Genre: Child-centric Ghost Story
review in one breath
Less than one year following his smash hit Gakkou no Kaidan director Hirayama is back at it, this time with another creepy elementary school chocked full of ghoulies just waiting to scare the jello out a group of unsuspecting kids. Though the basic premise is the same, this sequel provides a much darker and dangerous tale than the original.
The original 1995 Gakkou no Kaidan, also directed by Hirayama Hideyuki was an instant hit with Japanese audiences, resulting in a series of direct sequels, TV series, and later remakes. As the title of the current film implies, this sets out to build upon the basic formula of a haunted school which provides the setting for creepy and harrowing experiences. Apart from the director and a few of the cast, however, there is very little if any overlap with the original. The sequel introduces most new child actors, again made up predominantly elementary-aged talent, and is set in a completely different haunted school.
But the most striking difference lies in the much more mature horror elements Hirayama here utilizes. Unlike the original, which impressively scaled the depiction of horror to ghouls and scenarios its elementary-aged cast might themselves imagine, Gakkou no Kaidan 2 contains scream-moments and grotesqueries which will startle even the adult members of the audience. While the original skillfully proved spooky to children (and adults) without necessarily invoking nightmares (and this is what really makes the original an exceptionally fun ghost story), Gakko no Kaidan 2 seems to care little for this artful distinction and pursues instead a more traditional, shock-inclined approach to its horror.
The original Gakkou no Kaidan spawned three directly related of which Hirayama also directed the second (this film) 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
Gakkou no Kaidan 2 - 1996 (current review)
Gakkou no Kaidan 3 - 1997
Gakkou no Kaidan 4 - 1997 (I'm still looking for this one)
During the summer months, a Tokyo-area elementary group is attending a retreat at a rural Buddhist temple. The elderly monk in charge of the temple takes great pleasure in telling the visiting children the local region's many ancient ghost stories. In fact, the region is well-known for its superstitious traditions, and several of the children excitedly await some appearance of ghostly phenomena. Most memorable perhaps is the creepy tale of Kocho Sensei, principal of the local elementary school who suddenly disappeared 30 years ago, nearly to the day. Rumor has it that at precisely 4:44pm she disappeared, and thereafter strange things continue to happen when the clock strikes that very minute.
Its not long until a group of adventurous students, some armed with cameras, find their way into the school in time to see the precise minute of 4:44pm pass. What they did not foresee, however, was the school's clock would be perpetually stuck at that very point in time through the bumbling of one of their group, thereby holding the ghostly portal open indefinitely. Also stumbling into this situation in an unwitting cat burgular intent on pilfering the temple and school of its valuables during the summer break. What he finds in the school safe is an antique gold pocket watch, the very watch Kocho Sensei had with her the night she disappeared...
What follows is a nearly non-stop series of events which has our cast of characters running and screaming from one corner to the other.