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Pray (Sato Yuichi 2005)



Genre: Supernatural Ghost Horror

review in one breath

Mitsuru and Miwa kidnap a little girl in the hopes of collecting a huge ransom, but their risky plan takes a bizarre turn when the parents of the girl claim she has been dead for a year to the day. While holed up in an abandoned school building with their comrades deciding what to do next, very strange and violent things begin to happen as Mitsuru becomes increasingly mesmerized by the seemingly innocuous little girl.


This film is based on the short story by author Ogawa Tomoko. Ogawa is a recent yet relatively experienced author in terms of integrating her written work and cinematic production. For example, she co-authored with renowned manga artist Tsutomu Takahashi the novel Sky High) upon which the theatrical release was based. The current short story is entitled Pray and is published alongside another story entitled Booth by author/director Nakamura Yoshihiro, which has likewise been recently adapted to film. These tales are published (together) in the first volume of the new "Absolute Terror: New Generation Thrillers Series".

This appears to be director Sato Yuichi's first full length film, though he has previously directed a couple of successful TV dramas, including the very popular Waterboys series. As his debut film, Sato's previous TV experience provides enough familiarity with style and lighting to successfully create some genuinely creepy moments. And the use of author Ogawa's multi-layered narrative is a wise move, allowing Sato to do what he does best while leaving creative storytelling to others. The cast here is comprised of relatively well-known Japanese talent, few of which, however, have much film experience. Exceptions here would include Tamayama Tetsuji (here playing Mitsuru) who generally appears in the type of films I do not watch..., Mizukawa Asami (here playing Miwa) whom you will recognize from Dark Water and Shibuya Kaidan (and more), and Kohinata Fumiyo from Audition, Ringu 2 and Ringu 0 (etc).

To say that this story breaks new ground in the horror genre would be far too generous. It does however pull several diverse themes into a well-knit whole, mixing depictions of malicious spirits, traditional notions of the afterlife, and crime/gang suspense. The film runs at a remarkably brief 77 minutes yet finds enough time to adequately tell its tale, define those involved, and arrive at a satisfying (and developed) conclusion. I suspect that at around the 40 minute mark you will have put together all the major pieces of this puzzle but likely not the final solution which, given the gradual transformation (or revealing) of the characters' true nature, comes across very effectively.


Mitsuru, the ad hoc leader of a gang of hoodlums, and Miwa, his girlfriend, find themselves in immediate need of 50 million yen in order to pay off an unsuccessful drug deal. Failure to come up with the money within a day's time means BIG trouble and so they decide on a desperate plan to kidnap a young girl and demand the amount from the parents as ransom.

Their choosing, kidnapping and drugging a young girl all goes according to plan, and they rendezvous at an old abandoned school building to wait out the night and negotiations. But rather than concern over their missing daughter, the parents consider it all a cruel hoax, claiming that their daughter has been dead one year to the day. They promptly refuse any further contact with these so-called kidnappers.

Although they first imagine it might be a strange strategy played by the parents, both are soon forced to admit that there is indeed something VERY CREEPY about the little girl. By the time others from their gang show up at the school to join Mitsuru and Miwa, the two are already besides themselves in fear and confusion.

And then things turn BLOODY...


This is better than a lot of the very recent straight-to-video horror I've recently reviewed. It is easily superior to Ghost System in both plausibility and impact, and comes across as far more mature and developed than even the best of the Kadokawa Horror series (in which Mizukawa Asami likewise appears) or any similar collection.

But this remains squarely in the B-Grade tier, leaving a bit to be desired in terms of narrative creativity, overall dramatic acting, and cinematic style. Regarding style, this film seems quite dark (literally) throughout. The stylistic reason for this, of course, is to juxtapose the brilliantly lit flashback/supernatural scenes so as to create greater visual/emotional impact. But that said, you will undoubtedly wonder why the vast majority of this storyline takes place in incredibly under-lit settings. In terms of acting, I felt Tamayama Tetsuji did a fine job. This was the first time I've seen his work and won't be surprised if he reappears in future films reviewed here within the hallowed halls of SaruDama. The other cast, by and large, come across as mediocre at best and I myself was about to start haunting Mizukawa Asami due to her over the top hysterics and constant scream-whining. And finally, as regards narrative creatively, I won't go into detail any further than I already have when I noted that the creativity here involves solely the (perhaps unique) interweaving of otherwise established themes into an interesting whole.

Overall, this is an entertaining, somewhat complicated and even engaging ghost story which will easily suffice for some casual yet well-developed chills. This is definitely better than mere "Saturday afternoon fare" (according to my general use of that phrase) but will not quite merit a full blown gathering of friends and rice wine in the hopes of a J-Horror Fest. So I guess that means you should watch this by yourself at night while drinking (all the) rice wine alone. Or something like that. (?)

And one final mind itch. The Japanese name for this film is ??? (pu-re-i). The Japanese pronunciation of "RE" falls precisely in-between that of English "R" and "L". (Hence, the infamous EngRish.) Thus if you Google the word ??? you will notice that it is translated "PLAY" as often if not more than it is "Pray". (The word ??? is written in katakana, a purely phonetic system which does not in and of itself imply a particular "meaning", just a particular pronunciation). Thus the original ??? can be equally read "Pray" and "Play" (hint: as in "play the piano"). After watching this film, YOU TELL ME... which reading do YOU think would make the most sense?

Definitely worth the rental fee. Probably not worth the purchase cost.

Version reviewed: Region 1 subtitled DVD available at all mainstream outlets.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
First film released from the "Zettai Kyoufu: New Generation Thriller" series. Both graphically and implicitly, the violence-quotient gradually increases until... OMG!! (I HATE when that happens!) SaruDama Turn-OFFs include: One shrieking, over-hysterical Miwa.
Turn-ONs: Cute pink fuzzy jackets!!
Decent ghost story with plenty of crazy suspense and strange plot twists.


I looked for this movie just to watch Tamayama-San...I liked it.

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