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February 28, 2012

Black Ghost

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Kuroi Shojo
Mari Asato - 2009
J-Bics Region 3 DVD

I decided not to let February go by this year without a nod to "Women in Horror Recognition Month". Especially after reading this editorial from Fangoria Magazine, welled a feeling of some kind of gallantry, if that's the right word. I mean, I like eye candy as much as most other guys, and the proof is in some of my screengrabs, but these guys in Fangoria act like there's no female talent on the other side of the camera. And since most of the contributions are on English language talent, I figured I'd chip in on a film by an Asian filmmaker.

I don't know much about Mari Asato. She did serve as an actress and Assistant Director on Sodom the Killer, a pretty good film as I recall. She's also made a film with the delightful title of Samurai Chicks which is about a dance school that is a cover for women learning movements of a lethal variety. Another of Asato's films is titled The Boy from Hell, about the extremes of a mother's love for her son. Based on her filmography, Asato has several horror films to her credits.

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Black Ghost is the second half of two films running less than an hour each, part of Ju-On 4. The story is not directly related to the original series, which to me is not important, although it was by Takashi Shimizu, the creator of the series. Because I wasn't paying attention at the time of purchase, what I saw was a Thai DVD with no English subtitles. If getting the plot points is that important, they can be found at IMDb among other places. What struck me was the dismissal of Asato's film by the critics I've read.

Maybe because I saw the film without subtitles, I was able to appreciate the craft of the filmmaking. Is Black Ghost scary? No. But it does have its moments of creepiness. And Mari Asato has a better sense of where to put a camera, more so that some guys who've managed to wrangle Academy Award nominations. What I liked about Black Ghost were the faces and the use of shadows. Asato has a taste for tracking shots as well. Everything is cleanly composed. A favorite moment involves a woman, walking alone along a dark street. You have the sense that something unexpected could happen. It's the kind of scene that you'd often see in the horror films produced by Val Lewton, who's frequent protagonists were women in some kind of supernatural danger.

If a film like Black Ghost is worth writing about, it for this reason: sometimes good craftsmanship should be appreciated for its own sake. Not every film has to have lofty artistic or philosophical goals, and most of them don't. For myself, I see more than enough contemporary filmmakers without the sense of where to put a camera, how to block a shot, or how to visually relay a story economically. Mari Asato may currently be the equivalent of the more than competent "B" filmmakers of the past, but as the longer view of film history has proven, that's really not a bad place to be.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 28, 2012 08:31 AM