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Toire no Hanako-san: Kieta Shojou no Himistu (Sasaki Misato 1997)


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Toire no Hanako-san: Kieta Shojou no Himistu
[Toilet Hanako-san: Secret of the Disappearing Girl]

Genre: School-Based Horror Story

review in one breath

This is a creative and effective sequel to the 1995 Toire no Hanako-san about a ghostly young girl terrorizing the fleeing students of an elementary school. In this film, the horror moves to a high school where a spiritually sensitive student soon succumbs to a growing presence in the school. By the time she is able to convince her classmates of her premonitions, the formidable power of Hanako is in full swing.


intro

Within contemporary Japan there seems to be a widely circulated ghost story involving a mysterious, ghostly girl named Hanako haunting a particular bathroom stall in the girls restroom of the local school. This tale of a Toire no Hanako-san (aka Toilet Hanako) not only inspired four separate theatrical releases sharing her name, but has also permeated MANY other school-aged ghost stories including the entire Gakko no Kaidan movies series and a myriad of straight-to-video ghost tales. I say this is a contemporary story because when I ask my Japanese friends about Hanako, they do not recall her story being circulated when they were young. Thus, I am not quite sure whether Hanako is a recent creation or in fact an older, local tale which has only recently gained national recognition.

There are four films entitled Toire no Hanako-san (with diverse subtitles). The original is the 1995 film directed by first Toire no Hanako-san was released Matsuoka Joji. In the same way the original 1995 Gakkou no Kaidan captured the imagination of Japanese children and adults alike through a child-like optimism surrounded by creative and convincing ghoulies, Matsuoka's Hanako was thoroughly received and thereby spawned an immediate series of sequels.

The film under review here is the second in the Hanako series released in 1997 by director Sasaki Masato whose other work includes the truly bizarro-horror Donor (1996) and the third film in the Hanako series. For the most part none of the adolescent talent here went on to appear in any other films other than Sasaki's third Hanako tale.

I should say I really liked the many creative aspects of this story. In the late 1990's there was a sudden deluge of school-aged ghost stories produced, some much better than others. Most if not all were basically supernatural mystery movies, where students are confronted with a strange, spooky phenomenon and then set out to investigate it. Thus in every film, a group of students find themselves shuffling down dark school hallways in the dead of night only to encounter even stranger, scarier things. Toire no Hanako-san: Kieta Shojou no Himistu falls squarely into this formula, but is indeed one of the better stories through its introduction of some mind-twisting elements which thoroughly enhance the mystery portion of the narrative.

Here are my reviews of some of the other films in this series:

Toire no Hanako-san - 1995
Toire no Hanako-san : Kieta Shoujo no Himitsu - 1997 (current review)
Toire no Hanako-san : Kyoufu kousha - 1997
Shinsei Toire no Hanako-san - 1998

story

Its their first year at Honcho Junior High and things get off to a very shaky start when students left and right begin having strange experiences. While Miyuki visits her teacher Saeki to attend to a finger cut, she has visions of a somber-faced girl in an outdated school uniform. At that very moment, panicked students run into the office announcing that another (girl) student, Mizudani Sachie, has fainted while in the "Hanako stall" of the girl's bathroom, the rumored location of the haunting spirit of a young girl. When Sachie fails to regain consciousness, she is taken to the hospital, where she later awakes with no memory of the incident. Upon her return to school, however, Sachie now seems to have full insight into other things such as the manner of death or serious injury each student will face.

When Sachie's predictions eventually prove accurate, she is soon ostracized as the other students avoid her out of fear, pushing Sachie into further depression. Noticing this, Miyuki approaches Sachie in an attempt to comfort her, but Sachie can only beckon Miyuki to follow her to an abandoned school building a short walk away. Though trying to dissuade Sachie, the two soon find themselves walking through a long narrow tunnel beneath the mountainside. In the midst of the tunnel Miyuki turns to see a large truck just moments before she screams to the sound of the truck's horn and screeching brakes. When Miyuki finally opens her eyes, neither the truck nor Sachie are anywhere to be found. She can only wonder if she did not somehow actually die in that moment.

When a larger group of girls eventually confront Sachie over her increasingly alarming predictions (such as her prediction Miyuki will die through dismemberment!!) Sachie promises them proof if they follow her to the abandoned school. This, of course, leads the entire group through the tunnel. Also in the group is Miyuki, who can't help but notice the bouquet of flowers laid at the roadside within the tunnel, apparently in memory of someone who had died there. This time, however, they all reach the creepy, abandoned school deep within the mountain forest. Once inside, they slowly follow Sachie down dark and creaking hallways, until she suddenly bolts down the hallway and into the girl's bathroom. After a bout of screaming and anger, our gang of girls then proceeds to find Sachie, opening one bathroom stall door, then another, and then they come to the third stall .

verdict

This is a fun and mentally challenging ghost story, though well within the prescribed pattern of the many other Hanako-inspired films. Director Sasaki evokes some effective elements and content, some of which reminded me of the Ito Junji - inspired films Oshikiri (2000) and Shibito No Koiwazurai (2001). This film differs enough in content, cast and storyline from the first version to merit a side-by-side viewing.

It seems that all these school-aged ghost stories are in fact aimed at school-aged audiences, though they are polished enough to provide adults with some real entertainment value. This demographic aim (toward younger audiences) seems to require the typical children's story conclusion where "everyone lived happily ever after", and this is definitely the case here (and in every other film of this type I have seen). Thus the resolution comes across as a little too happy and a little too complete (for my tastes). Each of these films, however, is careful to leave the Hanako character unresolved and just as mysterious and creepy as when we enter the story, with perhaps the addition of the students' conviction that somehow Hanako is in fact not quite as malevolent as she first appeared.

Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Sequel to the original Hanako film. No violence, though Sachie's description of everyone's doom is rather graphic. Despite the boys' best efforts to peek into the window while the girls are getting their measurements taken, one yell by the school nurse scatters them in all directions. Adequately mind-bending and mysterious.

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