I like my Japanese horror. I like getting the bejeesus scared out of me by some master of total creepiness with a budget in two figures. I even, in a weird sort of way, like the inevitable aftermath of a good horror film: lying wide-eyed and quivering in bed, quilt pulled up to my chin, scanning the darkness for signs of ghosty activity. It’s surprising I’ve got any bejeesus left, in fact.
Shikoku, however, is no threat to anybody’s bejeesus. Despite the presence of such staples of the industry as pallid ghosts and eerie caves, it fails to raise even one hair on the back of the neck. Which is a pity, because in the right hands it could have worked quite well.
Alas, the right hands were not to be found, so we’re left with this. Chiaki Kuriyama, as Sayori, glowered through her hair and looked surprisingly credible as someone raised from the dead after sixteen years: her voice is scratchy from disuse, she looks permanently confused, and she can’t seem to get all her bits working properly. As the embodiment of terror, though, she doesn’t quite cut the mustard. Perhaps it’s the fact that her big speech descends into that perennial teenage whine of “It’s not fair!” Or perhaps it’s because all the supposedly tension-inducing moments are telegraphed well in advance. Or maybe it’s simply the fact that there’s no mystery: we know who she is, how she’s being called back, and what she’s after, and all that’s left for us is to admire the scenery.
The presence of the veteran actor Ren Osugi would have helped somewhat, except that he spends most of the film in a coma, which doesn’t allow him much latitude. Mind you, if I’d been married to that harridan, I’d probably have jumped off the mountain without waiting to be pushed. And we’re still left with no explanation of why Sayori died, although with a mother like that…again, there’s the sneaking suspicion that Sayori tossed herself into a pond to escape a mother who uses her daughter as a sort of halfway house for demons and spirits. Not much of a life for an ambitious teenager seeking to escape a humdrum life in the sticks.
It would have been more enjoyable had any of the characters been sympathetic, but again, that was not to be. Sayori inspires little sympathy despite her early death. Hinako is vapid and hardly there, while Funiya’s stolid taciturnity defies any attempt to turn him into a likeable character. The strongest impression comes from the demon-banishing stranger who leaves his lonely mountain to come and shake his rattle at Sayori, and he only gets about five minutes of screen time.
All in all, this is a wholly confused and unsatisfying film. There’s very little horror and plenty of boredom, if that’s your bag. At least your bejeesus will be safe.