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St. John's Wort - Otogirisou (Shimoyama Ten 2001)


Saint John's Wort

Genre: Video Game-Based Mystery

review in one breath

In terms of video/PC games, I generally prefer those which focus on heavily armored robots with heat-seeking missiles. There is, however (and amazingly enough), another, entirely different genre of game which involves you exploring every nook and cranny of an environment to discover clues (which generally lead to keys which help you unlock further clues) into some over-arching sinister mystery. In the West, games like Myst or Riven, or more recently Syberia are exemplars of this genre.

Those familiar with this genre of game are far better equipped to understand or accept the basic premise pursued in director Shimoyama Ten's Otogirisou (aka St. John's Wort). This is because the story taking place within the film is that of such a game. Thus the physics, navigation and constraints of such a game are superimposed onto the world of our characters . There is an over-arching mystery to be solved. There is a large empty mansion filled with locked doors. There is a key ring containing enough keys to open most of the locked doors, but not all of them. There are old newspaper clippings and photographs to be discovered throughout the house which provide clues into the over-arching mystery. There are hidden rooms and staircases and a few shocking encounters.

It seems clear that Otogirisou is aimed precisely at an audience familiar with such computer games. Not only do the basic mechanics of the storyline abide by these rules, but the characters themselves are thoroughly immersed in just such a game's development and programming (giving the audience all kinds of glimpses into the makings of a game). Much of the characters' communication involves high tech equipment and sophistication, including what has to be broadband satellite access to the internet. (or was Kohei streaming those videos through his cell phone connection? I think not.) And heck, while we're pointing out the accomplishments of really hi-tech here, we ought to all bow down and worship the battery life of Japanese laptops. Not 2; not 4; not even 6 hours of continuous use will get in the way of your computing pleasure! With gadgets like these, is it any wonder that Godzilla retired this year?

But those are really trivial tech matters in what otherwise amounts to a very interesting film.

I don't think there's much reason to go into detail regarding the "over-arching" mystery or the storyline. Otogirisou isn't about its "mystery" or storyline. It is solely about the attempt to create a cinematic world derived from a popular PC game genre. In that regard, I think they succeeded, and I enjoyed the experiment. Suffice it to say that the mystery is indeed dark. Very dark. Not dark enough to be a supernatural "horror", but it certainly has a few bizarre elements to it and is certainly as plausible as any of the genre's game storylines. (By the way, Shimoyama's accomplishment thoroughly beats Western attempts to cinematically reproduce popular action genre games such as "Mortal Combat", "Dungeons and Dragons" or "Tomb Raider".)

Let me just tell you about the name Otogirisou, which is Japanese for the herb St. John's Wort. Prior to seeing this film, I looked into the mysterious powers of this ancient herb, thinking that it might somehow provide clues into the film. Unfortunately, the only healing powers attributed to the herb have to do with the urethral trac, which caused me no small amount of pondering into what the film's subject matter might be. Suffice it to say that the film is named after the herb Otogirisou only because the mansion's front lawn is full of them. No urethral connotations whatsoever.

I enjoyed Otogirisou. It was frequently comedic, sometimes sexy. It also had very good music and sound score. And I appreciate the homage to a popular PC game genre. I will certainly watch this again, if not simply for the eye candy.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Unique and interesting experiment attempting to merge RPG game worlds and cinema. One or two "cringe" moments, and some implied cruelty. Unfortunately, the game this film is based on is NOT "Leisure Suit Larry". Although popular "action" games have been made into (flop) movies, this may the a unique attempt to cinematically explore a game (albeit fictitious) of the RPG genre.


Actually, Otogirisou is based on a novelization of a Super Famicom (SNES in the US) game, and is nothing like the Myst like games on the PC, although they have similar roots.

It's a sound novel, a genre invented and popularized by Japanese developer Chunsoft with Otogirisou and Kamaitachi no Yoru, which was inspired to the founder of Chunsoft when he saw early American adventure games like Zork, which were text only and used text parsers.

Before PC games could display graphics they were text only, and in the earliest adventure games, there was no point and click. If you wanted to pick up keys, you'd have to type 'pick up keys' etc. you had to find the syntax and commands, with players often trying tons of different verbs randomly. These games were very complicated.

This was impractical for console gaming (The main videogame market in Japan) because of a lack of a keyboard.

Then the people at Chunsoft got the idea to make a game based on text like Western text adventures, but with a digital version of gamebooks as gameplay. This allowed to tighten the narrative and make it more novel like.

Instead of typing in commands, playing would get a selection of choices in a list, and depending on which one they picked, the story might branch off in another direction.

The text displays on all the screen, and beneath the text, there are pictures which appears to better illustrate the action. Sound effects are used too. Newer games have used cinematic sequences too.

Sound novels are a combination of novels with multimedia and gamebooks.

The Otogirisou game sold well, and the next Sound Novel by Chunsoft, Kamaitachi no Yoru was a real hit with 1 million + copies sold, even attracting attention from non-gamers.

While in the West text adventures gave birth to graphical adventures, with commands input manually by the player being replaced by graphic icons.

Setsuna is right, Otogirisou (St.Johns Wort) is from the graphic/sound novel game released in 1992 by ChunSoft on the Super Famicom. I enjoyed the game myself and the atmosphere it creates is still chilling at times. Kamaitachi no Yoru (Night of the Sickle Weasels) was the 2nd Sound Novel from ChunSoft, I believe they used real actors in the creation of the game.

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