Genre: Collection of Supernatural Ghost Stories
review in one breath
A collection of eight contemporary folk tales of the ghostly and supernatural produced by seven up-and-coming directors of the new J-Horror genre. Ranging from the comedic to the truly spooky, this collection of entertaining and fun short films is a contemporary version of the Edo Period's "Mimi Bukuro", a ten-volume collection of kaidan tales.
During the Edo Period, a high ranking samurai named Negishi Shizue began collecting the local ghost stories told amongst the prisoners under his guard. Writing each tale down, he collected the stories into a large bag (bukuro), a collection eventually comprised of more than 1000 ghostly tales. Negishi went on to publish this huge anthology in ten volumes entitled Mimi Bukuro, meaning "Bag of Ears". ("Ears" here, of course, imply tales heard.) The Mimi Bukuro tales ranged widely in genre from the historic to the purely supernatural.
In 2003 an increasingly popular TV series entitled Kaidan Shin Mimi Bukuro began airing in Japan on BS-i (satellite) stations. The series consists of dramatized short films directed by some of the best and newest directors in Japanese horror. Like the original Mimi Bukuro the ghost stories, now approaching 100 in number, have been collected from folk throughout the country by writers Kihara Hirokatsu and Nakayama Ichiro. Each tale is assigned to a director under whose creative vision the horror and nuance of the story is given palpable expression.
In September 2004 a theatrical release (also) entitled Kaidan Shin Mimi Bukuro, which we are reviewing here, was produced consisting of "eight of the best" short films from the series. The eight stories are directed by seven different directors and comprise a "showcase" of some of the latest directorial accomplishments in Japan's ever-evolving horror genre. Each tale differs significantly from the others in terms of approach, style and content and the collection runs the gamut from comedic to gravely sorrowful to really spooky.
NOTE: There are currently also two straight-to-DVD collections available, entitled Kaidan Shin Mimi Bukuro: Nights 1 & 2 (corresponding to the "best" of the first and second seasons), each of which contains 10 short films. Both directors Shimizu Takashi (Juon) and Tsurata Norio (Ringu 0) have produced short films for both collections.
Below are brief descriptions of each of the tales in this theatrical collection.
The Night Watchman
Director: Yoshida Akio
The manager of a security provider (Takenaka Naoto) is increasingly irritated and baffled by the sudden resignations of each of his new hires after only one or two nights at an abandoned building. No explanation is given by the fleeing recruits, but their security logs all list an encounter with one or more individuals in the building. One security guard, however, remains unphased and on a dark night leads the manager through the building for a first hand experience of the midnight guard duty.
Wisps of Smoke
Director: Suzuki Kosuke
On their way to a relaxing weekend at the hot spring, three young women get lost amidst increasingly dark and winding mountain roads. Stopping for a smoke besides a large and ancient Shinto shrine, small and strange noises in the dark gradually crescendo into a terrifying malevolence which soon has them screaming and attempting to flee. Their flight is halted, however, when one of the three is overcome by the presence. As the others look on in horror the girl gradually evaporates into a wisp of smoke. The presence then turns its attention to the other two as they run screaming into the dark forest.
Director: Sasaki Hirohisa
Overwhelmed and lonely from her recent move to Tokyo from a small town a young woman quickly finds herself in a relationship which seems to be spiraling downwards. Her new boyfriend comes and goes at will and shares very little about himself including where he lives or works. If this weren't bad enough, she has a recurring nightmare wherein she is being strangled by a ghostly pair of long white silk gloves.
Director: Suzuki Kosuke
In the middle of the night a young mother suddenly feels a crushing weight and is horrified to see a ghostly man with a sinister sneer sitting on her. Flailing and fighting she attempts to fend off the apparition only to find that the ghostly man now sits atop her young son sleeping beside her.
Director: Miyake Ryuta
Two youth are celebrating their impending graduation by playing some basketball in the school gym. When their basketball rolls into an old storage closet they find a mysterious mirror. When one of the youth ventures too close, he inadvertently opens a frightening portal which will undoubtedly put a damper on their hopes for a memorable senior picture.
Line of Sight
Director: Toyoshima Keisuke
A quiet and introverted high school girl inadvertently captures a ghostly apparition on video and suddenly finds herself with popularity and friends to spare. Through repeated showings of her video to curious schoolmates, she is shocked to learn that the image in the video has taken on a life of its own. Her nightmare has only begun, however, when she learns the hard way that ghoulies cannot tell the difference between video and the "real" world.
Director: Amemiya Keita
A young goofball is invited to home-sit a plush condo while his uncle is away on business. The uncle makes the youth promise time and again that should he hear his name called, he must reply. And sure enough, no sooner has the youth settled into his new, temporary pad that a young womans voice calls out his name. By reflex he quickly answers "Yes?" but cannot find the source of the voice. This happens repeatedly throughout the days, and causes only a minor nuisance until, that is, he decides to have a pretty young girl over in the hopes of making a move. When the voice calls him as he attempts his Casanova advances, he fails to reply and inadvertently breaks the promise he most certainly should have kept.
Director: Hirano Toshikazu
An aging mother diligently and lovingly cares for her son Hisao who quietly sulks around the house. The mother laments the fact that Hisao's friends no longer come over to play and that Hisao seems almost forsaken and forgotten by others. Following the mother's footsteps, the audience gradually becomes aware that there may be more (or less) to Hisao than meets the eye.
Each of these short films is quite polished cinematically and effectively delivers a ghostly impact. As stated above, however, not every tale is intended to be equally frightening. The impact of the tale "Hisao", for example, though undoubtedly a ghost story, is by far the most sorrowful and emotional while (intentionally) lacking any moments of shock or terror. Other tales, such as "Wisp of Smoke" really come across as effectively and satisfyingly spooky and horrific. Both "Night Watchman" and "Promise" also pack plenty of spookiness but did so in a slightly comedic manner. These short films vary in length with some being very brief (such as "Weight"). Each film's running time under 25 minutes.
For fans of new J-Horror, this collection provides interesting insight into potentially refreshing new story genres and cinematic styles. Thus though short and intentionally lacking any prolonged dramatic buildup, these are fun experiments in effectively conveying the haunting intent of these folk tales. Keeping in mind that this proclaims itself to be a (new) diverse anthology of ghost tales (in the tradition of the original "Mimi Bukuro"), I believe it effectively delivers imaginative spooky tales showcasing the work of directors possibly moving up the ranks in J-horror film-making.
Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS
|Following in the footsteps of the Edo Era collection of ghost tales, here is a showcase of attempts by contemporary horror directors.||No blood or gore, but plenty of ghostly bruises or physical transformations into the ghastly.||He was about to get his groove on, but then the ghost called his name.||A diverse and entertaining collection of folk ghost stories cinematically recreated by up and coming J-Horror directors.|