Dark Tales of Japan

Directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura

Directed by Norio Tsuruta

Directed by Koji Shiraishi

Directed by Takashi Shimizu

Directed by Masayuki Ochiai

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Dark Tales of Japan Dark Tales of Japan (2004) is a made-for-tv anthology film telling five tales. In the original Japanese release the stories were in a different order & had a framing story about a storyteller on the bus.

The framing story is left off the 2005 American release in favor of presenting each piece as an individual short film. The dvd box does refer to the frame story, but it isn't present.

All of these short subjects are afflicted with the video-taped made-for-television look & sound, are overacted, & have cartoon plots.

Dark Tales of JapanThe first one, however, actually benefits from the tawdry presentation, & it set up an expectation that they might all prove to be cheezily entertaining, though none of the other four lived up to the first.

This set of tales is typical of a great many similar releases of J-horror shorts generally made up of television material.

Most of them are vastly worse than this selection, so anyone who ever liked any of the type should like this one at least as much. But it's still not much.

Dark Tales of JapanThat first short is The Spiderwoman (Kumo Onna, 2004) directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura, the author of the screenplay for the hit Dark Water (Honogurai mizu no soko kara, 2002).

When a magazine runs a tabloid story about the huge murderous spiderwoman, the writer who trumped up the story is alarmed to receive a huge number of letters from various people who'd seen her.

Most of these stories came from the same area of the city, so his editor sends him to do a follow-up story.

There's one wonderful over-the-top performance. Anri Sugihara plays Akemi, a "survivor" of the spiderwoman attack who is just captivatingly weird to behold.

Dark Tales of JapanIf I'd been this short film's director, I would've bowed before her with endless gratitude, & starred her in everything I ever made thereafter.

Yet the overall effect of the story is much more comical than scary. The "shocking" appearance of the spiderwoman evokes mainly laughter, though she's kinda cool even so.

It's a sufficiently entertaining short that I had high hopes for the rest of the tales -- hopes that were soon dashed.

Dark Tales of JapanCrevices (Sukima) is again afflicted with hokey exaggerated acting on the verge of parody, & flat videography.

It's sufficiently mysterious & weird to start out interestingly enough, & the fact that it's directed by Norio Tsuruta who did fairly well with Ring 0: The Birthday (Ringu 0: Basudei, 2000) lends some hope of value. But it too soon disappoints.

Shimizu has vanished inside his apartment & his friend has come to clean the place up. Shimizo had duct-taped all the cracks & seams throughout the apartment.

When the tape is removed, a laughing demon-girl begins to poke her fingers out from behind stuff, & our hero is so scared he can't even leave, but begins madly to re-tape all the crevices & cracks. There's no pay-off really & it ends so abruptly it feels unfinished.

Dark Tales of JapanThe third tale Sacrifice (Onamakubi) is long enough to tell a fairly elaborate story, though it's never particularly credible. Reiko is being sexually harrassed by Fukuda, a salaryman in her office.

Weird things begin to happen to her & other office workers tell her that Fukuda had put a curse on the last woman who rejected him & she afterward disappeared.

Reiko returns to her parent's village when she hears her mother is sick, & slowly comes to the realization that the other jilted woman was her own mother, & Fukuda is some kind of sorcerer.

Fukuda's curse had not killed mom only because grandma arranged to die in her daughter's place. Now it is time for Reiko's mom to die so that Fukuda's corse won't harm Reiko.

Dark Tales of JapanThis plot never makes much sense because the connection between a second-rate office job, a hometown village, & Fukuda never seems to be the right background for a generational curse.

And if Fukuda is such a sorcerer, how the heck did he end up such a dead-end-job salaryman. It all just begs too much of credibility.

Apart from the alarming but silly Giant Head Of Death, this is not all that fun or effective. It's just too dumb a story. Director Koji Shiraishi is the least consequential of the five directors represented in this anthology, & apt to remain so if this is as good as he can do.

Dark Tales of JapanBlonde Kwaidan (Kinpatsu kaidan) is another underdeveloped vignette marking a space between the more developed stories.

Ishiguro on a business trip from Tokyo to Los Angeles is getting all horny as his taxi takes him past so many "authentic" blonde girls walking about Hollywood.

He is perhaps cured of this fetish for blonde foreigners when the house he stays at turns out to be haunted by an erotic blonde spirit, which pretty much does nothing.

Director Takashi Shimizu was responsible for The Grudge (Juon, 2004). His blonde demoness rising out of the bed is pretty much the same shtick from his best known movie, but to no useful effect here.

Dark Tales of Japan I was hoping the last story would be as entertaining as was The Spiderwoman, on the premise that the collection was designed to start & end on effective notes, with the sour notes in the middle.

But Presentiment (Yokan) feels like it's all padding to get to a one-note gimmick ending.

Its director Masayuki Ochiai is best known for the so-so hospital horror film Infection (Kansen, 2004), & he does a similarly so-so job with Presentiment.

A salaryman is doing industrial spying as prelude to leaving his job, his wife & his kid in favor of his mistress. But he gets on a haunted elevator wherein he obtains cryptic advice from three ghosts who're waiting for him to die.

It reminded me of a minor Ray Bradbury story about a crowd of people who show up at every accident, always the same people. So it's certainly better than the middle three stories of this anthology. But it does not end the set on as high a note as was required to make it all worth the time spent.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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