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Shibito No Koiwazurai (Shibuya Kazuyuki 2001)


Shibito No Koiwazurai
[LoveSick Dead]

Genre: Supernatural / Psychological Horror

review in one breath

Based on an Ito Junji manga, Shibito no Koiwazurai drops you once again into a sleepy rural village populated with high schools students and permeated with folk superstitions. There have been many attempts to successfully recreate Ito Junji's manga worlds into cinematic expressions, but very few succeeded, whether visually or popularly. Uzumaki set the standard for such attempts, and most fans agreed that the film was both visually stunning and dramatically compelling. I'm happy to announce that Shibito no Koiwazurai comes in as a close second and likewise successfully creates a visual ambiance and narrative force able to carry the audience into the nightmarish world intended by Ito.

As in many of Ito's stories, the departure point involves a high school student who is in some was estranged, unusual or dysfunctional. In this case, it is Midori Fukuda (Goto Risa), an 11th grade girl who recently returned to her hometown of Nanzumi with her mother (Akiyoshi Kumiko) following the death of her father. Since her childhood days of living in Nanzumi, Midori has had the same recurring nightmare. It involves her standing before a small, street-corner shrine (tsuji-dou) outside a large cemetery. In the distance an ominous mist forms, within which she gradually sees a figure dressed in black slowly walking toward her, his face obscured and unintelligible. As he nears, her dread increases to the point where she is jolted awake.

As she walks to school on her first day back, she sees the exact shrine that appears in her dreams along the roadside. As she cautiously approaches it, she experiences overwhelming visions or flashbacks involving a grizzly suicide. The force of the vision knocks her to the ground and two fellow students, Tanaka (Miwa Asumi) and Tejima (Takahashi Shinji), rush to her aid. Through the encounter, they soon discover that they all belong to the same homeroom, and rather than walk past the shrine, they find another route to school.

Once in class, Midori recognizes her close, childhood friend Ryusuke (Matsuda Ryuhei) in the same homeroom. Her childhood memories of Nanzumi are predominantly of the good times she had playing and exploring with little Ryusuke. They immediately reacquaint themselves, and soon discover that they have strong feelings of love for each other. This, however, throws a damper on the aspirations of Tejima, who finds himself falling in love with Midori. And that, in turn, throws a major damper on Tanaka's heart-felt dream of becoming Tejima's one and only love.

With all this unrequited love floating around, conversations soon turn toward an increasingly popular local superstition. According to the gossip and a few girls who swear they have experienced it, standing in front of the road-side shrine with your face covered will results in your being approached by a phantom-like "lovely (male) youth" of whom you are then able to ask your fortune. Rumor has it that this spiritual presence all started with a lover's suicide on the very spot due to a young woman's sorrow over spurned love. This possibility of Tsuji-Ura ("roadside divination") is excitedly looked upon by high school girls as a way to discover whether one's hope of love with a particular boy will be realized. And slowly, one by one, angst-ridden girls stand before the shrine, eyes covered, to ask the mysterious youth their question.

The students soon learn, however, that pursuing tsuji-ura has dire consequences, as each girl claiming to have spoken with the ghostly youth eventually loses her mind and commits her own grizzly suicide. At the same time, Midori's visions of the original incident at the shrine are becoming more vivid and descriptive. She now sees the face of a beautiful, but disheveled and strangely tattooed young woman wielding a large, bloodied butcher's knife, and who seconds later goes up in a horrific ball of flame.

When Midori heads to the school library to investigate the original suicide at the shrine, Ryusuke's earlier warning that "some things are better left unknown" proves to be all too true. What Midori finds turns her world drastically upside down in an instant and results in her passing beyond a tragic point of no return and into a nightmarish world. What follows is a series of creepy and bizarre twists which will certainly take the audience by surprise (unless you've read the manga!) and will leave you pondering the implications well after the film has ended.

This was a very interesting and involved story, backed by a thoroughly manga-like visual atmosphere. Although not quite as polished and refined as Uzumaki in the cinematics, this is clearly a close second in style and substance. I felt the acting was quite good, and in particular that of Akiyoshi Kumiko, who literally freaked me out as she goes over the edge. Try to check this one out if you can. To my knowledge, though, this is not yet available in a subtitled version.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Finding an impressive recreation of Ito Junji's manga is getting increasingly hard to find! But here is one! A few slit jugglers with subsequent high-pressure blood sprays. A couple scenes of being burned alive. One bathroom remodeling using a toothy corpse in the fetal position. If these lovers would only quit killing themselves for a minute, maybe there would be some hot action! This is a very trippy story which is very well done both visually and narratively. A mind-bender indeed.

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