Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ghosts in the Machines

In the late 90's and early Aughts, Japanese Horror (or "J-Horror") was all the rage. Popularized by American adaptions of films like Ringu (The Ring) and Ju-on (The Grudge), these usually bizarre and often nonsensical tales of terror combined ancient Japanese mythology with modern Japanese technology to provide a unique perspective on Japanese culture. The least successful American adaption of these movies (2006's Pulse) came from one the best J-Horrors: 2001's Kairo.

Kudo works at a nursery with her friends Sasano, Toshio and Taguchi. When Taguchi doesn't show up for work for several days, Kudo visits him in his apartment, where he excuses himself to commit suicide in another room. Kudo investigates and finds a computer program which appears to be an "infinity mirror" of Taguchi staring at himself in a computer monitor. Meanwhile, economics student Ryosuke logs onto a new ISP and soon finds that his computer is turning itself on and accessing some very strange websites. Toshio receives a phone call in which the dead Taguchi whispers "Help me." Toshio becomes depressed and eventually ends up disappearing into a black smudge on the wall in the room in which Taguchi hanged himself. Ryosuke enlists his friend, computer expert Harue, to investigate the strange things happening on his computer, but she can find nothing wrong. Eventually, the two story lines collide and people all over Japan start to disappear. Ryosuke and Kudo eventually end up on an apparently abandoned ship headed for South America, though even at sea, they seem unable to escape the inevitable.

Admittedly, Kairo isn't an actioner. The story unfolds at an easy pace and the mysteries build upon one another slowly. Still, director Kiyoshi Kurasawa manages to create loads of atmospheric tension. I watched this film alone, late at night and found myself desperate to see around corners, while terrified at the thought of what I might find there. There are tons of things left unexplained (For example, what's the significance of the red tape they keep finding?) and the end leaves much to be desired - something to do with the afterworld being too full to contain the souls of the dead. But the film manages to touch on tons of subjects relevant to modern anxieties, the least of which is the soullessness of modern technology and the emptiness felt by many of its users. 

By all means avoid the 2006 American remake, which is probably the most boring ghost movie ever made and which bears very little resemblance to the original.

More, anon.

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