Dark Tales of Japan

Starring: Kayoko Shiraishi, Shozo Endo and Shunsuke Nakamura
Anchor Bay Entertainment UK
RRP: 16.99
Certificate: 15
Available 27 February 2006

Using a similar but more low-key approach as America's Masters of Horror series, Dark Tales of Japan has a feature-length running time comprised of five short horror stories loosely linked together. The idea here is to collect together some of Japan's best horror directors to display their respective skills in segments lasting between a mere few minutes and half an hour.

Would You Like to Hear a Scary Tale (directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura), although billed as one of the six tales, is actually a frankly superfluous linking piece split into three - one at the beginning, one at the end, and the other dropped into the middle. It has a lone elderly woman passenger on a night bus. She asks the driver if he wants to hear a scary tale. Each time she spends literally a few seconds telling what is supposed to be a frightening story, but the content is so sparse that it hinders rather than helps the general high quality of the other pieces.

The Spiderwoman (also scripted and directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura) is by far the best segment on offer. It has a group of young people in a car devising the abilities of the so-called Jet-Hag when they think they see a creature under a bridge. Hasagawa is a freelance journalist who investigates the reported sightings of a half-woman, half-spider. He collects together a lot of hearsay but wants the facts. Nevertheless, the sales of the magazine in which he publishes the reports rocket and letters begin to flood in. Hasagawa discovers that many have been sent by the same person. When he pays a visit he finds an apparently sick woman, and a lot more. This is a good story well told, considering the time allotted to tell it is so limited. It follows how an urban myth can grow through word of mouth, but in this case it turns out to be true. The end nicely links back the the first scene, and we see what terrified the teenagers under the bridge.

Crevices (directed by Norio Tsuruta) has Kodera arriving at Shimizu's apartment looking for his missing friend. Here he finds every single gap between items sealed with heavy red tape. When he checks out the computer all that will show up on the screen are the words "They're watching!" As he spends more time at the apartment attempting to learn what happened, Kodera begins to experience what his friend had. Something is trying to force its way through the crevices. This tale, more than most in this collection, uses some of the supernatural mythos of The Ring. I suppose it was inevitable as The Ring was the film which kick-started the Japanese horror revolution. However, it is careful enough to only hint at a similarity rather than plagiarise.

In The Sacrifice (scripted and directed by Koji Shiraishi) Mayu returns to her family home to care for her sick mother. When she was a child Koji saw something in the Buddhist alter room which only had a face. Now, as strange symbols begins to develop on her arms and on the ceiling of the house, Koji's mother is spending all of her time chanting in the alter room. The creature in this one (looking a little like Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi) is well realised, but the symbols have more potential for plot progression. However, this one is too short and consequently doesn't have the time to explain itself.

Blonde Kwaidan (scripted and by Takashi Shimizu) has Yoshio Ishiguro staying in a colleague's apartment whilst on a business trip in Hollywood. He has a liking for blonde women and plans to meet some while in America. He realises from photographs that his colleague's wife is blonde. Falling asleep to a strange book he finds on the night stand, Yoshio feels a woman's touch but wakes to find nothing there. Nevertheless, he feels a woman's presence. When he receives a phone call to say his colleague has committed suicide, he tries to leave the apartment, but his hand becomes snared in masses of hair beneath the bed. Something won't let him leave. This is also a great story. There's no explanation, but then some some of the best films have been inexplicable (the first Cube film springs to mind). The only gripe I have is that for a character wanting to go out and find blondes (he shouts enthusiastically at them from a cab window at the beginning) he spends all his time in the apartment wandering around and sleeping.

Presentiment (scripted and directed by Masayuki Ochiai) sees Fukawa about to leave work to rendezvous with his young family on holiday. Instead he steals data from the credit company where he works and plans to meet up with his lover on a train. When he becomes trapped in a faulty lift, with a curiously unconcerned elderly couple and a young woman, Fukawa begins to panic. Then his mobile phone rings and his lover says if he is not on time for the train she will throw herself under it. Events take an even more macabre turn when he discovers he is the only person who can see the trio and that they are present to witness his death. Teruyuki Kagawa as Fukawa turns in a great performance of panic, hysteria and fear, particularly considering he has little or no motivation. Not much really happens in this segment and yet it is the longest. Not the best of the bunch to finish on.

A good idea in principle. Most of these tales deserve more time to flesh out the plot and characters (especially The Spiderwoman, which would warrant a full film) but they make their point and leave you wanting more. The Extras amounts to a Making of Featurette only (28 mins). It would have been nice to have had commentaries from the directors.

Ty Power

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