Genre: Supernatural Ghost Story in Techno-Babble parlance
review in one breath
When a television producer visits the home of a brother and sister to interview them for his series on paranormal phenomena, what first appears to be a simple case of psychopathology turns into a full-blown epidemic of demonic manifestation. To his horror he realizes that he is not only a witness to the blossoming insanity, filming each scream and horrific expression, but that he and his technology have been intricately tied to the cause and conduit of its spread.
I have finally come to realize that there are two types of Japanese horror films. The first type aims to thrust viewers into an inexplicable evil which transcends expectation and experience and thus overwhelms the audience in horror. The second type, while admittedly also aiming to horrify its audience, sets its sites primarily on explaining how the evil originated or is perpetuated. For example, the original Ringu is an exemplar of the first type, leaving so many central questions unanswered yet scaring the be-jeezus out of every member of the audience. Then take Ringu 2 as an example of the second type, with its elaborate theories regarding water, litmus paper, and diodes on foreheads. The same director, theme and characters, yet two wildly different approaches (and outcomes).
By the way, there is actually a third type consisting of those films which try earnestly to be either type one or two but fail so laughably that they deserve their very own category. (And I've certainly reviewed my fair share of those!)
So welcome to Shiryoha, a film whose tag-line is "When you watch TV, you get cursed!". Now we've all seen people getting cursed in front of the boob-tube before, most notably after watching a particular VHS (not Beta!) tape. In fact, the whole notion of cursed tapes (including cassettes!) has been so overdone that we need a new paradigm freeing us from the haunting confines of reels of magnetic tape.
Enter Shiryoha whose title itself is a newly created (just for this film!) hybrid term combining the ancient horrors of ghostly terror with the wonders of 21st century electrical engineering. Representing the ancients is of course the term "shiryou" (死霊) which, bluntly put, means 'spirit of the dead' (or dead spirit). The "ha" (波) in the title, we learn, comes from "denpa" (電波) which of course means "electromagnetic waves". By simply swapping the electricity (電) with dead spirits, you get "shiryoha" (死霊波) which is that phenomenon whereby, and I quote, "a spirit is wholly merged with electromagnetic waves and is broadcast through television frequencies".
Okay my friends, its now time to take a guess as to which "type" of film Shiryoha strives to be... hmmm.
Usui (Wada Toshihiro, who you may recognize from Shibuya Kaidan and Bullet Ballet) is a young and brooding television producer responsible for an increasingly popular series which weekly investigates tales of spiritual possession and malaise. He is brooding (we presume) because his lover Shoko whom he has lovingly nurtured through her prolonged battle with depression leapt from a high rise window in the opening scene of the movie. Usui is inclined to view her suicide as stemming from the psychological imbalance of her depression, but he senses that this purely clinical explanation seems to lack something. And so Usui himself is living in a world where the line between the psychological and the spiritual is blurred.
In preparation for an upcoming show, Usui and his television crew arrive at the house of a brother (Yamazaki Shigenori) and sister (Esaki Akiko). The elder brother is clearly mentally unstable (yet wants to be on TV), while the younger sister, whom the brother claims is oppressed by spirits is both focused and intelligible. Although Usui quickly dismisses the brother as needing serious psychological help, they need content for their show and so follow through with filmed interviews culminating in a Shinto exorcism captured on tape. It is during this exorcism that things turn strange, as the brother wildly convulses on the ground and the sister suddenly screams in terror.
It gradually becomes clear to Usui's crew that they picked up more on tape than they originally perceived, as first haunting noises and then horrific images emerge during the filmed exorcism. And then members of the crew go missing, only to later turn up dead through what appears to be suicide -- Suicides very similar in nature and circumstance to that of Shoko...
But the greatest surprise awaiting Usui is that which lies behind the cause of the demonic plague infesting the home they visited.
There are several things which work quite well in Shiryoha, the foremost being its scary depiction of straight-out demonic infestation. The TV screen is effectively used as an interface to show us what, in the very same scene and moment, our flesh-and-blood eyeballs fail to perceive. Shiryoha taps into realistic discrepancies between what we can literally see and what may be lurking behind a veil of air and sunshine. And what Shiryoha depicts as hidden behind that veil yet increasingly drawn and clinging to us is startling if nothing else. In addition, some of the performances here are also startlingly effective. Most noteworthy is Yamazaki Shigenori who plays the truly deranged brother.
There are a couple things which do NOT work quite as well.
One. WHAT'S UP WITH ELECTROMAGNETIC GHOULIES? Huh? I mean really, why?? Heck, if spirits can get sucked into electrical or magnetic current, why suggest they prefer television bandwidths? At least do the Kairo thing (which made about as much sense) and let those hair-raising (get it?) ghoulies out on the internet super-highway. But no, we're talking TV. (TV!! Not even cable or satellite!) But as long as we're talking science... don't those frequency "waves" travel through the air and literally permeate us all, day in and day out? So why suggest these wave-surfing ghosts can only creep us out when we sit in front of the TV with bag-O-chips in hand. I mean really!
Two. Despite the extreme poseur value Wada Toshihiro lends to advertising this film, I nearly punched the TV after hearing him repeatedly squeal like a little girl. That's right. Wada has yet to perfect the theatrical nuances of manly terror. He has, however, thoroughly mastered the art of sissy terror. (and I mean wow!)
So I guess I'm saying Shiryoha is pretty much a 50/50 proposition. On the one side, when it comes to sheer depiction of demonic terror, this film really had me thinking about the plausibility of invisible spiritual plagues. But when it then tries to wrap that ancient, fundamental terror within the (quasi)physics of television broadcast, frankly speaking, no one, not you or I, is buying it. (TV!! sheesh).
Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS
|NADA.||A couple headlong leaps to the pavement, one cut wrist and a PROLONGED slice of the jugular (with bright red blood making an appearance in all relevant scenes)||One female ghoulie nipple. Male ghoulie nipples, though present, will not be awarded any points.||There is enough here to make this a scary ghost story if you can tune out the TV techno-babble.|