Genre: Pre-Pubescent Horror Tales
review in one breath
This is the second volume of the Kazuo Umezz's Horror Theater collection and contains episodes three and four of the six-episode whole. Unlike the tales of the first and third volumes, these two tales focus on the (mis)adventures of two elementary school-aged children. In the first, a young girls learns the hard way about the transformational power of hatred. In the second, a young boy discovers to his horror that sometimes wishes come true.
This is the second of three volumes of the recently released Kazuo Umezz's Horror Theater. Each volume contains two one-hour horror vignettes based on Umezz's horror manga. The production of this series celebrates the 50th anniversary of Umezz's debut as manga artist. His fifty-year career has been nothing short of prolific.
The following six tales comprise the entire collection:
House of Bugs (vol 1)
The Diet (vol 1)
Snake Girl (vol 2)
The Wish (vol 2)
The Present (vol 3)
Death Make (vol 3)
Umezz defines horror as extreme pyscho drama and his tales thus usualy center around some dire, unexpected situation arising out of a psychological state or trauma. In my review of the first two tales I was thoroughly impressed by Umezz's ability to capitalize on seemingly mundane fears or concerns we all have at one time or another, and developing them into something uncontrollable and frightening.
The two tales in Volume Two differ slightly from the others in that they center around the fears and anxieties of children. Perhaps for this reason I felt less compelled by these stories, which nonetheless were decent depictions of scary situations. The target audience for Umezz's manga is likely the teenage population, but the 50-year longevity of his popularity has resulted in a two-generation fan base. It is perhaps for this reason that this collection of six tales, celebrating his mangas' 50th anniversary in publication, can place side by side stories centering on children and adults.
Most of the collection's six tales are by the hand of a different director ranging from the well-known to nigh obscure. Here two relatively lesser-known yet up-and-coming directors take the helm at depicting stories based on Umezz's manga.
The following are brief descriptions of the two tales contained in volume 2:
Snake Girl [Madara no Shoujou]
After experiencing some particularly traumatic events at home and at school, 11 year old Yumiko is sent to the remote countryside to stay with relatives for the Summer. Upon her arrival everyone in the small town, including her relatives, treat her as an unwanted visitor and repeat the local superstition regarding the appearance of a Snake Woman who will consume the town. The dysfunction of Yumiko's visit spiral out of control once the Snake Woman appears, turning all of her victims into slave-like zombies.
This tale is directed by Noboru Iguchi whose earlier work remains hidden from Western audiences but whose 2008 film Machine Girl created an explosion (heh) within the international underground community. The momentum of its word-of-mouth praise and film festival applause resulted in its being licensed and released to Western audiences within mere months, which to say the least is a feat unto itself.
The Wish [Negai]
Young Hitoshi is an intelligent but friendless boy who spends his time in his room alone doing homework or dreaming about having friends. After deciding to change his routine, he takes a different route home and finds an odd piece of wood resembling a head. Combining his intense desire for a friend with ample time alone, he sets out to build his own friend out of the new-found head and whatever else he can muster. Once completed, he names his new friend Mokume ("knot hole") and together they sit nightly talking (albeit one-sidedly). After months, when a new young (female) friend enters Hitoshi's world, he finds that parting with Mokume is much more difficult than he imagined.
This tale is directed by Atsushi Shimizu (清水厚) whose work has not yet filtered to the West, though one of his better known directorial efforts is slated to be released in October 2008 under the title Ten Nights of Dreams, a series based on the similarly titled collection of 10 short stories by renowned author Natsume Soseki (1867-1916). Each of the collection's cinematic ten tales are the work of a different up-and-coming director, of which Shimizu is counted a member.
These are decent horror tales, but are not quite as strong as those of Volume 1, perhaps (as I said above) due to their being so child-centric. As with all these tales, the special effects are quite low budget and their degree of effectiveness is based purely on the skill of the director in manipulating his audience. Here, both tales do indeed build the tension and suspense quite well, but neither quite breaks out of its B-Grade status.
All three of these volumes, as well as the Box Set are now released in Region 1 subtitled versions and can be easily rented through NetFlix or BlockBuster.
Version reviewed: Region 1 DVD with English subtitles available at all mainstream venues.
|Short films based on the works of manga artist Umezu Kazuo.||Hammers and boards to the head, huge snake bites, and a chomping Iron Jaw.||Only a 5th grade blossoming puppy love.||One green skull for the creepy small-town superstitions, and another for the relentless Mokume.|