Magnolia Horror Double Feature
For a number of years now there has been a growing trend to transplant Japanese thrillers and bring them the United States, most of the time they seem to get diluted with their trip over the Pacific Ocean. When you watch the originals there is little comparison. With that in mind consider Kairo (Pulse) from cult horror/thriller director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. There is an American remake but do yourself a favor and stick with the original. As with most good horror flicks the plot serves only to set up the thrills, it is the execution (pun intended) that matters not the believability of the story line. While working at a botanical garden, Taguchi (Kenji Mizuhashi) comes across a strange computer disc. Soon afterwards he seems to have disappeared of the face of the earth. After about a week his friend and co-worker fellow gardener Michi (Kumiko Aso) goes to Taguchiís apartment. There she discovers that the computer there is broadcasting a web cam of the missing programmerís apartment. She finds Taguchi but after a brief conversation he kills himself, a black mark appearing on the wall behind where he hanged himself. Michi panics, takes the mysterious disc and flees back home. She consults with her friends, Ryousuke Kawashima (Haruhiko KatŰ), a computer-geek economics student and Harue Karasawa (Koyuki), a young technology teacher. When they examine the disc they see the web cam view of the apartment containing images of itself off to infinity. Somewhere across town novice computer user Kawashima Ryosuke (Haruhiko Kato) tires to connect to the internet for the first time. He comes across a web site that asks "do you want to see a ghost?" Afraid of hackers he goes to a computer lab to inquire about the site where he meets up with Harue a pretty but slightly nerdy computer maven. Slowly more and more people start seeing ghosts and disappearing; they try to ward off the evil by sealing their doors with red tape to no avail. The general consensus is they are being contacted through their computers from beyond the grave. It really doesnít even matter if their computers are disconnected, evil is much better are wireless than any service provided Iíve ever come across. What matters here is everyone that sees these ghostly, shadowy images on their screens are driven to suicide.
This film will only work for audiences here in the States if they are willing to appreciate and be accepting of the cultural difference with Japanese audiences. For most Americanís a horror film has to be overtly and liberally laced with strange methods to kill off the characters. We here are too used to the Freddy and Jason style killers to fully appreciate the much different style favored in Japan. Their horror stories are more esoteric even bordering on the existential. Where a person in Japan might prefer a well prepared meal, Americans want their horror like their food, fast. The typical American horror film has to have some horrific demise within the first reel. The Japanese are able to slowly immerse the audience into the horror. The scope of the threat is typically greater in these Japanese imports. In the States it is enough to threaten a summer camp or small town. In Pulse the whole human race may face eradication. There is also more in the way sub text to this film. The lack of communication between the characters is indicative of the isolation that the growing use of the internet provides. Many people are more comfortable online than communicating with an actual living human being. This feeling of isolation comes across very well here. What happens when this seemingly protected means of communication is co-opted by the dead for their own heinous plans? The closest we have every come to this in the States is the classic David Cronenberg horror-mystery, Videodrome. Pulse is almost a cyber space version of that great flick.
The cast here provides more than the typical horror genre fodder for death, they actually act. I know, this seems odd, to have to pay attention to the performances in a film like this but the cast gives noteworthy performances. Kumiko Aso is sympathetic and emotionally open. She connects with the audience enough if you have to divert some of your thought process to reading the subtitles. She is more than the American scream queen that will without a doubt be cast in the remake here. Aso has a vulnerability that comes off the screen to emotionally pull the audience into caring about her plight. Koyuki is also more than just the pretty girl that the audience watching waiting for her demise. Koyuki gives a performance that helps the audience to believe her as a fully formed human being not someone with an arrow reading victim on it.
The name of the writer-director Kiyoshi Kurosawa may not be well known in region one countries. Too bad, we are missing a lot there. Kurosawa does not just present a series of slightly related shocks he crafted this story for optimum effect. The story is built from the ground up. The audience is not just dumped into the carnage; actually this is extremely little in the way of visible blood shed here. It would appear that the trend in American flicks is to see who can use the most fake blood. With Kairo Kurosawa appreciates something that Alfred Hitchcock discovered a long time ago, the biggest scare is in your heads, not before your eyes. The pacing here is masterful. You are immersed in the plot slowly like easing into a warm bath it surrounds you. Instead of our usual immediate gratification there is a challenge to your mind that makes this more frightening than all of the Americanized remakes. You will find yourself discussing this film with your friends after it ends. The film was made in 1997 but not released until 2001. It was well worth the wait.
Magnolia Home deserves a lot of praise for bringing the original to DVD with such attention to detail. The video is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1. The color is occasionally biased to the greens but this is part of the directorís vision for the feel of the film. In other scenes the color palette is natural and realistic. The contrast is excellent, no defects or artifacts are anywhere to be found. The soundtrack is full and rich with extremely well done channel separation. There are both English and Spanish subtitles provided for those of us not gifted in Japanese. There is a behind the scenes featurette provided that details some of the problems encountered during production. For a foreign language film it is rare to provide any extras. Expand your view of what a horror film should be. Challenge your mind as well as your senses and add this worthy film to your collection.
Many film buffs here in the United States may overlook the foreign film market. Unless you have an art film oriented theater in your town you may miss many fine movies. When you think of horror flicks your mind may consider Japan or American independent flicks as the main source. You most likely did not consider the Thai horror film genre. Maybe itís not as large or well known as the more obvious members of the genre but there is at least one that is worth the horror flick devotee attention. This film is ĎSick Nursesí from Thai directors Piraphan Laoyont and Thatsaporn Siriwat. When I received the screener of this film I really didnít know what to expect. I have come across several Thai movies over the last few years but they seem to concentrate on the action and comedy genres. There was a thriller horror combination but this movie seems to be one of the first such films for the growing Thai film industry. If ĎSick Nursesí is any indication horror fans are going to start really noticing Thai movies a lot more. This movie is innovative; adding an unexpected freshness to a tried and hackney part of the genre, the vengeful ghost story. There are a few missteps along the way here but overall this is a remarkable endeavor.
Laoyont and Siriwat deliver a taut flick here that will captivate the audience from the start. In a bold move for any new directors, especially in a country not know for the genre, they break most of the established rules. They not only get away with it they add a freshness that most horror directors here in the States should take note of. The time line is extremely unusual for any film. It encompasses only about ten minutes or so of real time. The film is just over 82 minutes so you might wonder how they can confine the time to such an extreme degree. One plot device that is overused by many is pulled off nicely here, the venerable flashback. After that the ghost goes after former co-workers in a brutal fashion. The methods of each young womanís demise are customized to highlight a particular character flaw. This is itself harkens back to the seven deadly sins which is more prevalent in Western literature and films. While close in technique to something like ĎSevení it takes a more graphic turn here. Donít let the title fool you. It most likely is a translation issue than anything else. This may sound like the run of the mill slasher flick but there is so much more here than that.
The film begins with a man undressing a young woman. He slowly removes her clothing as she just lies there. There is a simple reason that she doesnít react, she is dead. The scene is actually in a Bangkok hospital where Dr. Tar (Wichan Jarujinda) and his staff of seven nurses have a little side business. Tar cleans the corpse with the assistance of one of his nurses, Nook (Chidjun Rujiphan). Nook lovingly wipes Tarís brown as her fellow nurse looks on rather jealously. The corpse turns out to belong to Tawan (Chol Wachananont), a former nurse of the doctor. Tawan not only worked for Tar but his supposed to be his girlfriend. Now it seems that her sister is moving in on her man, literally over her dead body. While this is never a good situation in a ghost story like this one it fills the scene with ominous portent. Some of the other nurses are there ripping plastic sheets to package the body parts. The scene shifts to seven days later where the nurses grab Tawan and hold her down on the morgue table. She screams for the doctor; he turns to look from the other room but does not interfere. Through the window between rooms Tar slips one of the nurses a surgical saw which is then used to stab Tawan to death. According to the clock on the wall (symbolically filling with blood) the time is ten minutes to midnight. The minute hands flies back and forth between the ten and twelve providing a visual clue to the unique time frame of the movie. In the flashbacks Tawan leans over Tar hugging him asking if they can look at wedding rings. She refers to him as Doctor Tar. This may be another cultural difference. Here a man usually lets the woman he is sleeping with call him by his first name. There are some little quirks in the dialogue like this every so often which are most likely due to the subtitling than anything else. The time shifts again to seven days after Tawan was killed. The opening title card warned the after seven days the dead come back for the one they loved; looks like the time is up. After being rejected by Tar Tawan threatened to go to the police about their little side business. Killing her solved a romantic and economic problem all at once. As midnight of the seventh day approaches Tawan comes back as a ghost and uses the dominate personality trait against each of the murderous nurses. For example the materialistic one is attacked and killed by an animated high end hand bag. They each get what is coming to them in a very fitting fashion. Two of the goriest killings are the lesbian twins Am and Orn (Ampairut and Ampaivan Techapuwapat) which brings the surgical saw into real old school use. Tawanís ghost will remind you of some of the Japanese spirits with long, straight black hair and blank eyes. The difference here is this is one ghost that truly knows how to get the job of revenge does right. Of course the good doctor gets to be last on the ghostly to-do list.
Like many films released to DVD by Magnolia Home Entertainment this one was more than likely not on the radar of a lot of people. This is what they do best, comb the Indy and foreign film markets and bring the most interesting films out on disc. This film will be presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 video which is clean and very well mastered. It will also have Dolby 5.1 sound tracks in both the original Thai and dubbed English. The screener copy provided for preview only had the original language and subtitles so I canít address the dubbed version. This is one that will make a Thai horror fan out of you. Get it and enjoy.