A Tale of Two Sisters

November 23, 2010

2003, by Kim Ji-woon

This is probably the first time in the last few months I’ve had a genuine scare from a horror movie. Ji-woon defines the limitations of the frame in such a way that I am instinctively more frightened by the possibility of what lies outside the frame of the camera than what lies inside. What lies inside is, too, quite scary. The story revolves around two sisters who return to their stepmother’s house after a prolonged absence, and the haunting of that house which occurs after they arrive. Spectacular in its use of twists and surprises, I recommend watching this film in the dark for maximum effect. Feel free to speculate all you want: I’m fairly sure you won’t be able to guess the ending or even understand it during the reveal.

Director: 今 敏, Kon Satoshi

So, Satoshi Kon is dead, sadly, and no more will his beautiful works of film grace the screens (except for his single post-humous work). I enjoyed Tokyo Godfathers and Paranorma Agent, so I’ve made it a personal goal to watch the rest of his movies (including watching Perfect Blue for the first time in ten years). Satoshi Kon’s movies invariably end up leaving you wondering what just happened, so the appeal stems from my love of directors like David Lynch and Terry Gilliam. In Millenium Actress, a director is making a documentary about a famous actress who has been in hiding for thirty years. As she relates the story of her life, the director and cameraman become supporting figures in her delusions, as the line between reality and fiction blurs further and further. High quality film about the nature of truth and love (at least, that’s what I took away from it).

Operation Condor (1991)

October 29, 2010

Director: Jackie Chan

This movie reminds me of The Mummy because of its desert setting, but other than that it’s really more Indiana Jones-ish. The film starts fast and keeps the pace through the entire movie, as Jackie assembles an ever-growing harem of female co-stars to help him locate a hidden cache of Nazi gold (I.E. the MacGuffin). The fight scenes and stunts in this movie rival some of Jackie Chan’s best films, including a fight scene in a room with a giant fan, a fight scene in a desert labyrinth, and a ridiculously fun chase scene. This movie doesn’t make a lot of sense, but then again, when have action movies ever focused on plot?

急患 (2004)

October 27, 2010

Director: Masayuki Ochiai

English Title: Infection

Set in a hospital where funding is rapidly dwindling, doctors stumble upon a rare medical case after a bizarre accident: A patient who is leaking and oozing green blood. As they attempt to study him, they discover whatever disease he has is contagious, and soon the doctors and nurses of the hospital are struggling to stay alive. I thought the premise was very good, and the explanation, too, but there were so many twists near the end that it began to feel contrived.

Seance (2000)

October 27, 2010

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Seance is a horror movie that once again utilizes Kiyoshi’s favorite actor, Koji Yakusho, who has also appeared in Cure, Tokyo Sonata, and Charisma by the same director. This film involves a couple, Koji and Junko, who are dragged into the kidnapping of a little girl. Junko, a psychic, has a psychological breakdown and Koji follows, unable to deal with the after-effects of the kidnapping. What seems to be a message about innocent people tossed into snowballing, uncontrollable situations is also a film about greed, guilt, and oppression.

Title: Nagai Yume / The Long Dream / 長い夢

Director: Higuchinsky

This is an hour-long drama about a man who dreams for long periods of time. As it starts out, he dreams for two days and is awake for one; as the movie progresses, he begins dreaming for years, evolving in shape to a monstrous appearance. Eventually, he attains what his doctors decide to be some sort of divine state, and permanently enters the dream world (an eternal dream). I thought the production values for this film were good considering it’s a J-drama. The story didn’t make a lot of sense, but the twist at the end was satisfying for me.

Rinne (2005)

October 26, 2010

Title: Rinne / Reincarnation

Director: Takashi Shimizu

So, this is a pretty cool Japanese horror movie about a girl cast as the main character in a film based on a real-life serial killer’s rampage through a hotel. It’s a smart movie by the director of Ju-on and the Grudge, and one of a number of the horror series “Films to Die For.” Shimizu says, in the DVD extra interview he gives, that he thinks of Japanese horror as more psychological than American horror. Whether or not that is true, Rinne is a psychological film, dealing (obviously) with the subject of reincarnation. Several characters in the film are reincarnations of victims from the slaughter, but the real question is: Who is whose reincarnation?

 

Tell No One (2006)

October 12, 2010

Title: Tell No One

Genre: Thriller

Country: France

“Tell No One” is the French film adaption of an American novel written by the author Harlan Coben. It tells of a man, Alexandre, whose wife is murdered. Ten years after the fact, new evidence surfaces that causes detectives to reopen the case and suspect him as the culprit. What follows is a two-hour-long game of cat and mouse between Alexandre and the police. It’s quite a coincidence that I watched this film on the same day I watched Gothika, because both films have similar (I use the word broadly) premises. Both films deal with the protagonist facing an unexplainable series of events that paint them as a criminal. However, “Tell No One” does it right. It never tells you the whole story and deals the information out in doses, giving you just enough to keep you wondering. The ending, though somewhat contrived, was satisfying to say the least.

I have heard an English language adaption is in the works. If you can stand subtitles, though, the French one is pretty good.

Gothika (2003)

October 12, 2010

Title: Gothika

Genre: Horror

 

This is the story of a psychiatrist at a mental hospital. Played by Hallie Berry. She is dealing with a patient who says “you can’t trust someone who thinks you’re crazy.” Berry rebuffs this statement. Ironically, she later hears it from her own lips after she is declared insane by Robert Downey Jr. This movie is one of those movies that dwells in the “are ghosts real or is there a logical explanation” realm. The fact is, there is a mystery here. It’s a stupid mystery, though. You might want to watch the movie just so you can figure it all out and be done with it.

One Missed Call (2004)

October 7, 2010

Title: One Missed Call / Chakushin Ari / 着信アリ

Country: Japan

This is one of those movies everyone has always told me to watch. Frankly, it has a lot of appealing qualities to a guy like me: A Japanese horror movie akin to the Ring and the Grudge, directed by Takashii Miike (of all people). I really noticed Miike’s love of spectacle present in this film, especially in the “Live Exorcism” segment of the film. However, his usual over-the-top gore was noteably absent. He is the kind of director who knows when to reign it in if he’s aiming for a mainstream audience. Seriously, though, if you liked the Grudge or the Ring, this movie is for you. It has all the same trappings. There’s a mystery surrounding a series of deaths. The protagonists team up to slowly uncover clues relating to the origin of said deaths. Said origin is usually a ghost, the murderous ghost of a woman seeking revenge. In the end, the ghost is placated… Or is it?

These films are really psychological in nature. One can look at the idea of unkillable ghosts as a metaphor for repressed memories of childhood abuse. Since all three of the films I’ve mentioned have initial causes dealing with childhood trauma, there is some weight to this argument. The unkillable ghost is like the memory of abuse: It can be repressed, but never wholly eliminated. In all of these films, acknowledgement of the ghost only leads to more problems, or greater problems. The solution in these films always seems to be either distancing oneself from the ghost in some way, or accepting the ghost (One Missed Call seems to take the latter route, but the ending is open for interpretation).