Blonde Kwaidan

The Sacrifice

The Spiderwoman

Story Teller

Stalker Sigil

From acclaimed producer Taka Ichise (RINGU, DARK WATER and JU-ON: THE GRUDGE) comes DARK TALES OF JAPAN, a chilling anthology of terror featuring the work of five of Japan's foremost masters of horror, including Takashi Shimizu (JU-ON: THE GRUDGE, 2003), Norio Tsuruta (RINGU 0: BÂSUDEI, 2000) and Masayuki Ochiai (KANSEN: INFECTION, 2004).

DARK TALES OF JAPAN is an anthology of made-for-TV short films. As in every good anthology there is a linking story. In this case there is no common author, or director to link the stories. Instead we have a mixture of urban legends, ghost stories or variations of traditional tales that feature ghosts and monsters. The linking item is an empty bus hurtling down a pitch-black road at midnight, it stops momentarily to pick up a solitary female passenger. When she has taken her seat she asks the driver, "Would you like to hear a scary story?", and even after he tells her he doesn’t, the woman continues to recount a series of terrifying tales…

In "The Spiderwoman", a pair of journalists working for a tacky weekly magazine, set out to investigate the rumours that a mysterious half-woman-half-arachnid is haunting a remote stretch of freeway near the town of Ibraki. They interview a group of schoolgirls; one of their friends had been attacked, and like in RINGU, they offer contradictory accounts of the rumours regarding the spider-woman who is sometimes known as Jet Hag. The urban legend proves to be more grounded in reality than anybody dared imagine when letters describing first hand accounts of incidents involving a spider-woman arrive at the magazine office. The man-eating female editor sends the two reporters to Ibraki to get to the heart of the legend. The story sets the tone for the rest of the collection with a fine mix of terror and humour.

"Crevices" is the most chilling tale of the series. It concerns the sudden disappearance of a man, Shimizu as he is engaged in research for his writing, and the shocking discovery made by his friend, Kodera, on visiting Shimizu's empty apartment. There, Kodera finds every gap – in the window frames, dresser drawers, between furniture and every other conceivable location – in the place has been covered by red masking tape. Shimizu’s laptop displays the same message over and over again, “I’m being watched”, which recalls Jack Torrence’s typewriter in THE SHINING. The taped up apartment generates an uneasy feeling of claustrophobia, and the sound of a young girl constantly laughing brought to mind the children in the TV adaptation of M.R. James’ LOST HEARTS. Indeed, this story would make a very worthy addition to any 'Christmas Ghost Story' schedule.

"The Sacrifice" involves a beautiful young woman, Mayu (Yamada Yu), who believes she once saw a ghost when she was a child. Already troubled by a colleague who stalks her, Maya is further distressed when she receives the news that her mother has collapsed. Returning home, she finds her mother chanting sutras in the room in which Mayu had originally witnessed the appearance of the ghost. Days later, Mayu notices a strange and inexplicable mark on her arm. The ghost in this story is the antithesis of the barely glimpsed black-haired girl we have come to know, and refers back to the more bizarre creatures that featured in 100 MONSTERS. The Sacrifice is a short tale about families, and magic – good and bad. The traditional ancestral rites practised by the mother are sharply contrasted with the sinister sigils, skulls and bugs of the stalker.

"Blonde Kwaidan", written and directed by Takashi Shimizu (The Grudge), tells the story of a Japanese businessman, Yoshio Ishiguro, whose trip to Los Angeles takes a sinister turn when he begins reading a book he has found in the room in which he is staying. Although alone, on waking from an alcohol-induced slumber Yoshio senses the presence of a beautiful woman in the room. Whilst at face value this seems to be the weakest of the tales, (it’s also the shortest) further examination reveals it to be the most interesting. As well as being a ghost story, it is also a critique of the Hollywood plundering of Asian horror films. Whilst 1980’s style music blasts from the soundtrack, Ishiguro talks to a taxi driver about the trend for US remakes of old TV series and J-Horror - and his obsession with blondes. The story’s very name and the hair motif draw on the curious cultural history that preceded RINGU; the film that initiated the current wave of J-Horror. The story "The Black Hair" has been the most influential on recent Asian horror cinema. It was featured in KWAIDAN (1966), based on the writings of Irish/Greek author Patrick Lafcadio Hearn ("Ghostly Japan", "Shadowings", "Kotto" and "Kwaidan"); collections of strange tales from past literature. Hearn’s input to the horror genre was not just limited to Japan though, his essay, “Country of the Comers-Back” was the first study of zombies, pre-dating William Seabrooke by 40 years or so.

If Hollywood remade KWAIDAN, this would be the result, with an added 80 minutes and a multitude of CGI effects including a mad horse that would leap through the apartment window into the path of a bulldozer.

In the final tale, "Presentiment" a data thief named Fukawa, on his way to meet his lover, becomes trapped in an elevator with an elderly couple and a smartly dressed young woman. As Fukawa begins to panic, the others in the elevator appear unconcerned by their predicament. Then, Fukawa receives a call on his mobile phone bearing frightening information. The lift setting recalls the linking story in the Amicus horror anthology VAULT OF HORROR. In the Amicus films there was often a strong moralistic edge, where transgressors were punished for a crime. And, as they were horror films, the punishment was usually far more excessive than the crime warranted. But Fukawa isn’t being punished for his theft, there’s something else going on here. There is a nice touch in this story by way of a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960). Like Marion Crane fleeing with the $40,000, Fukawa’s escape from the office is marked by Bernard Herrmann style music and voiceovers as he imagines what his colleagues will say when the data theft is discovered.

The ‘making of featurette’ shows the crew filming some of the most frightening moments from the individual segments, so do not watch this before the tales themselves. The conclusion of filming is followed by a brief chat with the relevant star. The accompanying music adds a somewhat ritualistic feel to the whole proceedings.

DARK TALES OF JAPAN is a highly recommended purchase. It will appeal more to those who have already watched a few of the recent J-Horror films than to the total newcomer. It has moments of genuine terror mixed with a great sense of humour, and deftly mixes elements of films such as RINGU and KAIRO with references to US movies.

There is a trailer for DARK TALES OF JAPAN on the Horizon Entertainment Ltd website here.

Features:

Widescreen presentation (1.78:1), 16:9 enhanced
"Making of" featurette
Stereo 2.0
Optional 5.1 Surround Sound
DTS
Japanese with English subtitles
Subtitles for the hard of hearing and scene selection.