GHOUL RATING: *** (3)
'Shikoku' could easily be discarded as 'yet another long-black-haired-ghost story from Japan' but please bear with me. It is much more than a mere derivative attempt to cash-in on J-horror craze. While it was one of the first ghost stories to follow 'Ring' (1998) and was actually playing a double-bill with 'Ring 2' (1999), it is actually based on a novel by Masako Bando, and its literary origins are visible in its greater complexity and subtlety.
Unlike 'Ring' and most of its successors ('The Grudge', 'Dark Water', etc.), which were mostly urban tales, 'Shikoku' is firmly rooted in the depths of Japanese countryside and its ancient folklore. Shikoku is the name of the smallest of the four islands that make up Japan: its meaning is 'four kingdoms', but a very slight variation in spelling, depending on the type of kanji used, can turn it into 'land of the dead'. Still, before you think 'George A. Romero' be reminded that Japanese dead folks are more polite and subtle, and much less bloodthirsty than their
The film is based on an actual traditional belief that
The plot starts when a young woman, Hinako, comes from
'Variety' described this film as 'supernatural drama', and while I hate when horror films are labelled 'supernatural-this' or 'thriller-that', in this case that might be a more suitable label. At least it won't make you expect a full-blown horror and be disappointed by the rather restrained approach. The pace IS deliberate and the scares are subtle and quiet ones, mostly lacking the exploitative shock-value. In other words, SOME viewers might find this film boring or devoid of frights. However, for this reviewer at least, the first two thirds of '
The frights come unforced, naturally arising from the beautiful setting and its atmosphere: statues with their heads cut off in the woods, a shady shape behind the window of an abandoned house, a boy who glimpses his dead grandfather in the middle of the day (shot in a very simple but effective way), a visit to Sayori's house where hundreds of papers proving her mother's visits to all of the 88 temples are dancing in the night breeze… A scene in which Sayori stands unnoticed over Fumiya's shoulder is comparable to a similarly spooky scene from the original 'Ring' when Sadako visits Reiko in the park, in the middle of the day. '
The film is available in a recently released DVD box set 'The Kadokawa Horror Collection' (together with 'Inugami', 'Isola: Multiple Personality Girl' and 'Shadow of the Wraith'). The colors are slightly muted, but in this case it only adds to the misty feeling of the visuals. In the extra department the disc boasts (unimpressive) trailers for all four Kadokawa horrors, a 3-minute 'behind the scenes' feature (shooting a scene toward the end of 'Shikoku') and approx. 10 minutes worth of not-too-revealing interviews with the director and two leading ladies.