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January 10, 2012


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Yoichi Nishiyama - 2005
Synapse Films Region 1 DVD

Is this a horror film primarily aimed for a young female audience? It looks that way for a couple of reasons. First, the cast is all young women. Second, even though there is a bit of chatter about two of the characters being "in a relationship", and there is a scene of one of the women taking a shower, there is nothing going on that would be considered titillating. I would imagine that this film would have been rated something like the equivalent to PG-13 in Japan, with only some of the bloodiness being tilting towards something a bit more extreme for stateside audiences.

The story is about a group of six students and a teacher, part of a movie club, who go to a secluded house in a remote, wooded area. One of the students has discovered an old film made seven years ago, by some previous students, about a vengeful ghost wearing a Noh mask. Part of the film features an on screen murder. There are rumors that what was recorded on film was real. The attempt to discover the truth, as well as recreate the older film, causes havoc and death.

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Food disappears. Cell phones and money disappear. Eventually some of the students disappear. When those that are still around get a drift of what's happening, and assume that they are being haunted by the mysterious masked woman they saw in the film, it is understood that the deaths are staged in ways that refer to five categories of Noh plays. While this isn't discussed deeply by any means, it provides a nice contrast to similar western horror films that are either self-referential or refer usually to any horror film usually no older than Night of the Living Dead. There are some of the usual horror film tropes, the point of view camera shots, the "gotcha" moments, and the discovery of being in the one place where there is no cell phone signal. The use of the noh mask in Japanese horror films, while effective, has not been overused.

There is nothing of substance about the creative team behind Gurozuka, although a good part of the credit would seem to go to Tadayoshi Kubo, who created the story and was one of the film's producers. Kubo's high watermark would be as a producer of Seijun Suzuki's Pistol Opera. IMDb is not the most reliable source for Asian films, but it seems like Gurozuka marks the end of a four film filmography by Yoichi Nishiyama, as well as composer Ryuji Murayama, whose creative use of scratchy guitars and bells makes the score worth mentioning. Yukari Fukui has made a career for herself as a voice artist, but makes for an engaging screen presence with her cute overbite. Yuko Kurosawa provides most of the eye candy during her time onscreen.

The film is a curious choice for the return of Synapse Films' Asian Cult Film Collection. Unlike previous releases, Gurozaku is not particularly gory, nor is there anything erotic. Nor is the film just flat out idiosyncratic like the films of Minoru Kawasaki. I would hope that the brain trust of Synapse looks beyond Japan for some movies in need of DVD rescue, perhaps the acclaimed Thai thriller, Slice, from the director of a couple of the Art of the Devil films, Kongkiat Khomsiri, and written by Wisit Sasanatieng, most famed for his Tears of the Black Tiger. Or maybe something from Indonesian filmmaker Joko Anwar. For what it is, Gurozaka is better than what I had expected, but without either audacity or originality to make the film of more than minor interest.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 10, 2012 08:01 AM