First off, this film is already released in the US in subtitled format. A long while back I watched the original Japanese release and more recently revisited the subtitled version. And I am here to confess that even with the subtitles, I am not sure I understand what is going on in this film. I remain mystified. Mystified. Gloomy. Depressed.
The Japanese title to this film is Kokkuri-san. The English title is simply Kokkuri. As the Japanese title’s use of “san” suggests, the term/name Kokkuri refers to “someone”. The word Kokkuri appears to be rather ancient and ubiquitous throughout Japan. Everyone knows who/what the name refers to. It is the name given to the spiritual entity contacted through a ouija-like game played by curious youths seeking insight into serious matters of the unknown such as who loves who, etc. Regarding the meaning of the term “Kokkuri” I wrote the following in my review of 13 Nights (Juusan Yoru) in which a simiilar story is told (also entitled “Kokkuri-san”):
The “kokkuri” references one of several traditional interpretations. One tradition suggests that the name “kokkuri” comes from the rather ancient divination practice of placing three intersecting chopsticks in a large bowl of rice. The bowl of rice is offered to the dead in the same manner in which smaller bowls of rice are offered during the national holiday of Obon. By holding one’s hands over the intersecting chopsticks and invoking the name of the dead, the bowl is said to tremble back and forth under the dead spirit’s influence. In the Japanese language, such trembling motion is described as “gokkuri gokkuri”, and thus the practice eventally came to be known as “kokkuri-san”.
You’ll notice from that description that the name “Kokkuri-san” thus applies to any deceased soul contacted. Thus while the ouija player continuously refers to the ghoulish informant by this name, he/she actually has no idea who is being contacted (unless the ghost decides to divulge its identity, of course). This “unknown” regarding Kokkuri-san’s identity is the central horror element in this film since, as it turns out, two of the three high school girls at the narrative’s forefront have some history with this particular Kokkuri. Thus the spooky undercurrent of the film is (intended to be) two-fold. One the one hand, the children’s game of Kokkuri actually works by calling some presence into their midst. On the other hand, Kokkuri-san may in fact be a malevolent entity who has been hanging around you for quite some time waiting for a chance to wreak havoc.
But this tale is about much more than the actions of the Kokkuri-san. It is predominantly a tale about the often brutal dynamics of friendship (and quasi-friendship) between HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS. Thus audiences are in for more cat-fight squabbling than you’ll get on reruns of 90210 and more than enough estrogen-fueled gloominess to put the Goth/Emo crowds to shame. Everyone here seems to be teetering at the Existential Edge, ready to plunge headlong into the Abyss of Despair. Talk of suicide abounds as does teen heart-break, regret and tears. There’s also a little b00bage and some flirtations with lesbianism, so keep reading guys.
So make of that what you will. This is going to be one of those films where you sit through alot of sappy melodrama while anxiously awaiting some Japanese horror. In a way this reminds me of Perfect Blue where in order to get to the (supposedly) scary moments I had to sit through a 45 minute expose on the glamorous life of a teen model. (Only to be disappointed by both the facts that I didn’t have what it takes to be a teen super model and that there were in fact no scary parts in the film after all that.)
This film is directed by Takahisa Zeze who is either a jack-of-all-trades or a master of none. I am leaning toward the latter. He seems unable to choose a favorite genre, resulting in his various films being all over the map and coming across rather shallowly. With Kokkuri-san (1997) he attempts teen angst mixed with horror. Then he moves to a Bonnie and Clyde-like crime love story with Hysteric (2000). Then some cyber-punk erotica with Tokyo X Erotica. Then on to a couple comedy films before directing the Poseur Pop-Star Sci-Fi Vampire flick Moon Child (2003). Etc. I think you get my point. The seeming effect of this experimentation with genre is that you end up with what amounts to his first attempt at topic X, Y or Z minus the experience more genre-specific directors might bring to their films.
None of the central starlettes appearing in Kokkuiri-san have much more of a film resume. The only one with any relevance to Japanese horror is 10 year-old Saki Aoshima who here plays the little ghouly. A month after this film she appeared in Haunted School 3.