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Kakashi - Scarecrow (Tsuruta Norio 2001)



Genre: Supernatural Local Superstition

review in one breath

Kakashi (which means "Scarecrow") is based on a manga by Junji Ito (as are Uzumaki and Tomie) and tells the story of Kaoru and her unfortunate adventure into the isolated mountain village of Kozukata in search of her brother Tsuyoshi. In its broadest sense, the tale is much like Woman in the Dunes and Inugami which also revolve around the misfortune of an unexpecting outsider who stumbles upon an isolated and bizarre community. Unlike these two, however, Kaoru is neither trapped (as in Woman in the Dunes) nor seduced (as in Inugami), but is instead virtually begged by the townfolk to leave. Her desire to find her brother is what keeps her in Kozukata, despite some very freaky people and events, and by the time she catches up with Tsuyoshi, all hell has literally broken loose.

After not hearing from her brother in over a week, Kaoru visits Tsuyoshi's Tokyo apartment and while there discovers a strange letter to him from what appears to be a former girlfriend Izumi. The letter has the return address of Kozukata. Opening the envelope and retrieving the letter, a handful of hay falls to the floor. This results in Kaoru's search for Tsuyoshi which takes her down unpaved mountain paths to a long tunnel leading through the hillside. On the other side of the tunnel lies an isolated village in the midst of preparations for the annual "Kakashi Matsuri" ("Scarecrow Festival"). The very bizarre townspeople are little help in pointing her to her brother and are much more absorbed in creating life-like scarecrows, replete with hair, make-up and squeaky clean tennis shoes. The scarecrows are eventually positioned around a large wooden windmill in the middle of a field, much resembling scenes of a Celtic may pole festival.

Kaoru ends up spending the next two nights in the home of the Miyamori family, the home of Tsuyoshi's girlfriend, and there experiences nothing except vivid nightmares of scarecrows come to life and the zombie-like Tsuyoshi and Izumi. Her daylight experiences are not much better and include a wrestling match with a living scarecrow and the discovery of a Chinese girl appearing on missing posters outside the valley. Kaoru's "bizarre-o-meter" hits an all-time high when she finds Izumi's upstairs room and there meets the elusive girlfriend face to face, not however, before peeking into Izumi's diary and finding something akin to Jack Nicholson's "novel" in The Shining (and the main character of Izumi's novel is Kaoru). It quickly becomes apparent to Kaoru (and viewers) that Izumi should no longer be rightfully counted among the living. A later, highly informative talk with Mr Miyamoto reveals that Izumi has been dead for quite some time, but that strange things have been happening since their return to the village after her death. We deduct that Tsuyoshi, upon receiving a letter from the otherwise deceased Izumi, informing him that she is alive and well in Kozukata, ventured off in search of his former love, in the hopes that she truly had not been killed.

The Miyamoto's are not the only ones migrating to Kozukata following the death of a loved one. In fact, the entire town's (normal) population consists of those who have suffered such a loss and who seem willing to go to unusual lengths to be reunited. The Chinese girl exemplifies this through (apparently) traveling an extensive distance to the village following the death of her father. All seem to have heard that this town, and in particular its Kakashi Matsuri, provides the possibility of reunion with dead loved ones. If you've ever read (or "seen") Stephen King's Pet Cemetery, you will get an inkling of the dynamic that is built up here.

Kozukata's strange ritual stems from an ancient practice of offering human hair to ward off beasts and evil spirits. The practice eventually evolved into the offering of human effigies, the kakashi, increasingly in the attempt to dispel evil and attract beneficent spirits. The sacrifice of human effigies, however, attracted darker forces which quickly overshadowed any hope for protection or divine favor via the ritual. By the time Kaoru has discovered the village, death's door is opened wide within Kozukata year round, but widest still during the Kakashi Matsuri, which Kaoru now finds herself attending.

Can you guess how it ends? I sincerely doubt it.

To its merit Kakashi focuses much more on culture and context than on starlings and personalities. This is undoubtedly due to the movie's "commitment" to Junji Ito's (manga) vision. Though the movie may indeed be "slow-paced" to some, it ought be mentioned that this critique is increasingly subjective, especially given Hollywood's brazen propensity for "McMovies". (As in the very recent Western reduction of the otherwise excellent Gojoe by 40 whopping minutes to save non-Japanese audiences from the "hassles" of historical information and character development.) The name "Kozukata" literally means “territory never to invite" or “direction never to return" and originates in the (historically real) ancient folk tale of Iwate wherein demons are driven away and invoked never to return. Likewise, the "Kakashi Festival" also refers to an historical reality which continues to be practiced in Yamagata during the Autumn harvest. (If you're ever in that neck of the woods you can attend this festival at Yamagata's Tsukioka Park, a 10 minute walk from Kaminoyama Station any September 8-16.)

Kakashi thus resurrects Japanese folk intuitions by creatively (and eerily) walking you through the "Kozukata" tunnel and throwing you into the middle of the "Kakashi Matsuri". And then there's the whole thing with creepy, seductive, undead Izumi.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Adaptation of Junji Ito's manga. Involves historical realities of both Kozukata and the Kakashi Matsuri. Also directed by the able Tsuruta Norio (of Ring 0 fame) Particular cruelty to a non-flame-retardant (or retarded?) scarecrow. Other (renegade) scarecrows suffer limb unstuffing and general "fall-downage". Apparently I am the only one who noticed that a scarecrow can be easily turned into a 21 year old japanese girl... If you are interested in the realities of Kozukata, the Kakashi Matsuri, and the (ever present) notion of strange goings-on in (unusually) remote Japanese villages, step right up! Otherwise, you probably didn't even read this far.

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