Genre: Supernatural Psycho-babble Horror
review in one breath
As I sit down to write this review, the phrase "Sigmund Freud's Psychedelic Nightmare" keeps running through my head. This is because ISOLA packs more bizarre psycho-babble per square inch than most films would dream of attempting. You have your cute, young psychic whose ESP is so rampant that only strong medication makes life bearable. Then you have your cute, young schizophrenic whose multiple personalities make Sybil look well-adjusted. And then you have your cute, young and nude psychology student whose sensory deprivation experiments result in a classic case of astral projection gone awry. AND THEN you have your cute, not-quite-as-young high school counselor turned self-appointed psychoanalyst sticking her nose into everyone's psychopathology. Throw a young, brooding (and single!) male doctor into this mix of psychotic babes and you've got the recipe for the mother of all (psychological) cat fights! (woo hoo!)
ISOLA is set in the devastation immediately following the 1995 Kobe earthquake, and follows the wandering of Yukari Kamo (Yoshino Kimura) who has neither home nor family. Yukari does, however, have a rather powerful ability to read others' thought. This ESP has brought her to the brink of madness and suicide in the past, but through the use of strong medications, she is able to repress the many voices in her head. When we catch up with her, she has wandered into an ad-hoc rescue center brimming with Kobe citizens who have lost family and home. There she volunteers during the day and sleeps in a storage room during the nights.
Yukari's sleeping habits are eventually found out by Hiroko Nomura (Satomi Tezuka), a high school counselor in charge at the rescue center. Hiroko allows Yukari to stay at her home where Yukari soon comes across the thirteen drawings of trees which Hiroko is diligently analysing. Each of the thirteen drawings is the work of Chihiro Moritani, a student at Hiroko's high school and each tree represents a different personality residing within Chihiro. Over the next few weeks, Yukari coincidentally encounters Chihro in several situations, though Chihiro appears to be a completely different person at each encounter. Through Yukari's persistent kindness, she is soon able to ask Chihiro about her multiple personalities, and Chihiro quickly draws out her own little "family" tree. The only personality which cannot be placed neatly into the tree is the 13th, the personality named ISOLA. When Yukari presses Chihiro for more information regarding ISOLA, Chihiro nervously scribbles out the name. Chihiro then explains that ever since the car accident which took the lives of her parents, she has been plagued by these multpile personalities. Through her ESP eye, Yukari sees Chihiro floating above her unconscious body lying beside the burning automobile. Yukari realizes that Chihiro had an "out of body" experience. (Not to mention "out of mind".)
When people start turning up dead, Yukari's first thought is that these are somehow tied to Chihiro, since all those killed had come into some form of contact with her. The vicious dog that barks loudly at Chihro is soon found with its throat slit. We then watch in disbelief as the high school girl who bullied Chihiro drowns herself in the depths of a toilet bowl (perhaps one of the more creative methods of suicide in Japanese film). The gym teacher who lashes out at a rebellious Chihiro soon commits a strange form of hari kiri with a yakitori skewer. And so on.
Yukari's curiosity into Chihiro's situation soon brings her into contact with Dr. Kazuhiko Manabe (Ken Ishiguro), a psychology professor at a local university whose personal research happens to be in out of body experience. His research came to a screeching halt, however, the night the Kobe earthquake caused the tragic death of a research assistant in the midst of their experiment and completely destroyed the research lab. Through their cooperative investigation into Chihiro and the string of bizarre deaths, Dr Manabe and Yukari soon discover that a darker, more malevolent force is possibly the cause of all the fatal mayhem. Their suspicion is soon justified when ISOLA herself eventually hunts them down.
ISOLA was rather entertaining, if not merely in a mindless sort of way. The plot not only requires a high occurrence of well-timed coincidences but also the nearly inexplicable altruism of Yukari in her pursuit to help Chihiro. (Although Yukari does try to explain this as her sympathy toward Chihiro who is now suffering a mental malaise in the same way she herself had once suffered. *Sniff*) On the Official Scale of Psycho-Babble (OSPB) ISOLA easily tips the scale at 11 (out of 10) -- The little white pills which suppress rampant ESP, the high school counselor turned over-eager quack-psychiatrist who takes it upon herself to "therapeutize" a seriously deranged (and publicly dangerous) young woman, the mad-scientist Manabe whose experiments (thankfully) require his nubile subjects to completely disrobe and *slowly* walk a couple times around the lab in front of the camera before gently reclining with a seductive sigh into an isolation tank brimming with warm, glistening cocoa butter (yowza!) -- all this (and more!) when you enroll in the Backwoods Community College of Psychology!
The film has a couple white-knuckle cringe moments, all of which involve prolonged anticipation (by the audience) of inflicted pain. The visual effects are far from stunning and are almost completely lacking, but apart from the flashing doo-dads in Manabe's research lab, visuals effects seem unnecessary since the focus of the story is solely upon anti-social schizophrenia and nude lab assistants. (And we must give credit to the casting director who wisely selected only pretty young people to star in this film.) Although psychological malady is clearly the prime suspect here, the film properly belongs to the horror genre when the true nature of ISOLA is revealed.
ISOLA does, however, end on a rather positive note (This analysis, of course, requires you to deem someone jumping out the fifth story window as "positive") and resolves in the recognizably traditional manner of a love story. By "traditional" I mean it is not the degree (or presence) of love which is binding, but the acceptance of responsibility to ultimately take care of an individual which fate has somehow made your partner.
ISOLA can be recommended as entertaining viewing for a rainy weekend or while nursing a major hangover. Little thought is required and there are enough pretty girls (and the ever-present possibility of their nudity) to keep one's attention. The plot is rather implausible at times (!) but almost to the point of achieving "campy" status.
Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS
|Other than some stock footage of the Kobe earthquake, no cultural lessons to be learned.||Several tragic demises, many stranger than most. Death by murder for Fido. One self-inflicted drowning in randomly placed toilet bowl. If you've heard of "yaki niku", you'll enjoy learning about "yaki necku"! One nude cocoa butter bath gone horribly wrong. One giant leap for mankind.||Those nipples had their own little "astral projection" going on!||Great Sigmund Freud! Psycho-babble up the ying yang! After this movie debuted, young males' enrollment in psychology majors skyrocketed, once it was leaked to the public that psychological research often requires gratuitous nudity of hot young babes! (Sign me up!)|