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Mail - Kadokawa Horror Cinema (Takahashi Iwao 2004)



Genre: Supernatural TV Mini-Series

review in one breath

Following his recovery from blindness, paranormal investigator Akiba Reiji has tracked down and dispensed with dozens of malevolent spirits. His adventures bring him into contact with Mikoto, a young woman sharing similar abilities. As Akiba's 100th ghostly encounter approaches, a flood of long absent memories suddenly returns. This Western release contains a recently popular theatrical release of a popular Japanese TV mini-series.


My god!!! When will these made-for-TV series end?

My last SEVEN reviews have been of this (disappointing) sort and I confess I am about at my limit. (And once I reach my limit, then the drinking begins... followed by my sudden nudity... and then comes the shocking, yes even ugly aftermath...) SO HOPEFULLY this will be the last of such reviews for a while.

Unlike the myriad other collections recently released to the West, this one is contained by a single sequential narrative involving the same main characters. In July 2004, a nine episode series consisting of 160 minutes of tales was originally released to TV by the Kadokawa media empire. In January 2005 the same series was released to Japanese audiences in a 2 DVD box set which included an additional 90 minutes worth of interviews and "making of" material. On October 25, 2005, the series was released in an English subtitled version (under review here) also entitled Mail. The English version has a running time of 150 minutes and contains seven of the nine original series. (Though the English version's menu lists only six episodes, the unnamed introductory tale is actually episode one of the original.) There is no supplemental material on the English DVD.

Also unlike the other collections, this series represents the work of a single director, Takahashi Iwao. Though Takahashi has nearly twenty films on his resume, the only one I recognized was (the excellent) Afterlife on which he worked as assistant director beneath Koreeda Hirokazu.

MAIL is based on a manga of the same name by author Yamasaki Hosui. The live-action series stars male pop star Suga Takamasa as Akiba Reiji and perennial horror queen Kuriyama Chiaki as Yamaguchi Mikoto.

[NOTE: Kuriyama, born in 1984 is 20 years old when she appeared in this series. No doubt she (and I) am wondering when they will stop casting her as a teenager in a high school uniform. In films recently released to the West she also appears as a gun-wielding high school (uniformed) student in MPD Psycho 2 (2000 at age 16) and in Kadokawa Mystery & Horror Tales: Vol. 2 (2003 at age 19) as a kimono-clad youth.]


Each 30 minute episode of this series deals with Akiba's investigation into and solution to a different ghost story. The narrative thrust of the series, however, is not upon the separate ghost tales but upon the mystery behind the single-minded Akiba, his gradual recovery of long suppressed memories and his relation with the similarly gifted Mikoto. Thus in the end, this amounts to an elongated tale of self-discovery and love, populated with several ghost tales in the interim.

This being the case, I will not go into detail regarding each episode, since the ghoulies are not the primary focus of the tales. The quality of CG effects here are minimal and the separate ghost tales are hardly terrifying or groundbreaking. But the overall narrative of Akiba and Mikoto is rather compelling and is undoubtedly the strongest component of this collection.

The following is a list of the separate episodes in this collection. As I mentioned earlier, the particular meaning and impact of each episode is subordinate to the over-arching, sequential flow of narrative. Thus isolating any one of these tales from its place in the sequential narrative would prove meaningless.

  1. The Painting

  2. School Reunion

  3. The Stalker

  4. Katsumi-san

  5. The Youth Who Couldn't See

  6. The Promise


I admit, this proved enjoyable for reasons entirely different from the reason I originally chose to watch this. I originally wanted to see an enthralling and complex supernatural tale involving all form of ghostly phenomena. But that's not what I got. Instead, I watched a tale of mild supernatural content which unfolded into (yet) a(nother) karmic-bound love story. There was enough mystery and secret here to make me interested in finding out the conclusion, but there is not enough compelling supernatural content to convince myself that I have actually seen a "horror" film.

And you know I can be rather generous in reviewing low budget "j-horror" fare, so I would expect you, on average, to personally deem this slightly less impressive than what I here make it out to be.

Version reviewed: Region 1 subtitled DVD available via mainstream US venues.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Nothing here. One bleeding vein. No other onscreen or implied violence. Despite his attraction to leather pants, Akiba's personal dysfunction completely puts the kibosh on interaction with the opposite sex. Though this ultimately turns out to be a moving love story, there is nothing worthy of a score on the "strange" scale.

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