Gakkou no Kaidan 3 - Haunted School 3 (Kaneko Shusuke 1997)


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Gakkou no Kaidan 3
[aka Gakkou no Kwaidan 3 or Haunted School 3]

Genre: Child-centric Ghost Story

review in one breath

Regaining some of the core, good-natured elements from the original Gakkou no Kaidan (which were unfortunately dropped from Gakkou no Kaidan 2), here director Kaneko takes a shot at conjuring up a school-aged horror taking place in the dark hallways of a large and foreboding elementary school building. The fruits of his efforts are both visually and narratively impressive, resulting in a highly recommendable ghost story for all ages which carries a meaningful humanitarian message.


intro

It has been a while since I had seen the first two Gakkou no Kaidan films (both directed by Hirayama Hideyuki) but I distinctly remembered the true appreciation I felt for the original and the lasting bad taste in my mouth after watching the sequel. (See below for links to those reviews.) Thus I am happy to say that this third manifestation of the series, this time directed by Kaneko Shusuke hits the nail on the head and brings viewers back to a plausibly child-centric view of the world where youthful struggles so easily clash with the strangest of childhood nightmares.

Director Kaneko has undoubtedly proven himself in his profession with nearly 35 films under his belt. He directed Gamera 1, 2 & 3 (1995, 1996, 1999) as well as Crossfire /Pyrokensis (2000). He also directed the intriguingly named 1987 film Kyoufu no Ya-chan ("Terrifying Ya-chun") which I admit I hadn't heard of but am more than interested to locate. (Stay tuned j-bizarro fans!)

You can read my reviews of the prior two versions for background on this series. Suffice it to say that those reviews try to describe the drastic shift in production intent from the wholly unique and memorable original to the apparently "made-to-please" sequel. So much that made the original a mega-hit was either inadvertently or intentionally put aside in the sequel, causing the audience enthusiasm regarding the latter to wane so drastically that director Hirayama gave up his directorial rights to a third film in the series. Thus it is at this point that director Kaneko steps in and produces a wonderfully child-centric film which again captures the core essence of the original.

For those of you wondering how this production story ends, Kaneko's version regained a significant portion of the public audience, enough to cause Hirayama to jump back into the ring and crank out a fourth version (which I haven't seen yet.) It also spawned a TV series and derivative theatrical remakes, though these latter films focused on high school horror.

The following are links to my reviews of some of the other films in this series:

Gakkou no Kaidan 1 - 1995
Gakkou no Kaidan 2 - 1996
Gakkou no Kaidan 3 - 1997 (current review)
Gakkou no Kaidan 4 - 1997 (I'm still looking for this one)

story

After a fellow student mysteriously disappears during an after hours game of hide and seek in the elementary school building, the rumor mill amongst the students begin churning out all types of fantastic theories, many of which involve the well-known local legend of Hanako-san or the sad tale of Taichi the sickly student who died without the childhood enjoyment of having any true, close friends.

When a few brave students decide to investigate things on their own, VERY late at night, they discover an ominous and foreboding mirror one of their favorite teachers had pulled out of a locked and forgotten storage room (the lock of which mysteriously fell to the floor as the teacher was following some strange phenomena!!) and placed on the classroom wall. As the children peer into the mirror, one by one they are violently sucked into it by a ghostly hand.

And then the rumors REALLY start, finally causing the teacher herself to demonstrate to her fearful students that the mirror is harmless. But of course you know her best (and adult-naive) intentions goes horribly awry... (!!)

Thus the entire lot of six students and one humorously cocky female teacher find themselves in a paralleled mirror universe where all things normally good are now maliciously evil and life-threatening.

Amidst the amazingly diverse world of rather scary entities they encounter, one proves to be more empathetic than the others, the ghostly Taichi whose deadly power swings them from hopes of rescue to eternal damnation in Hell.

verdict

Yes, I liked this one alot. Sometimes it is better to experience and enjoy rather than think your way through a good ghost story. Director Kaneko strikes a very respectable balance between the purely child-centric visions of the original and the sequels adult-centric depictions of horror. The CG effects in this film are impressive and effective, ranging from ghostly apparitions to a barrage of weird physical objects roaming the darkened halls of the school. But most impressive is the fact that this story is equally concerned with teaching its young audience a few core humanitarian lessons. And perhaps even more so than the fun and memorable spook-inducing CG effects, the presentation of these moral lessons will stick with you long after watching this tale.

Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Excellent recovery of the essence of this film series by director Kaneko Shusuke. Amazingly cringe-inducing scenes of scary ghoulies with HUGE knives seeking face donors. Plenty of dripping zombies and Grim Reaper-like authority figures. No sex, though the teacher struts out her small chest in a passionate defense for her need to keep her face (?!) This is an excellent good-natured ghost story with a truly palpable humanitarian message.

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