The Japanese Film Festival in Australia, which is presented by The Japan Foundation, Sydney, always includes a few genre films for horror lovers. This year saw the 20th instalment of the event, which toured Australia from 14 October to 4 December 2016, and the programme included two horror films: The Inerasable (2016) and Haunted Campus (2016). There were quite a few very dark and suspenseful films included in the programme that included elements of horror – Night’s Tightrope (2016) is definitely recommended viewing – but this review will only cover the two films that fit fully within the horror tag. The first, The Inerasable, is based on the novel Zange (2012), written by Fuyumi Ono, and the second, Haunted Campus, is also based on a novel of the same name, written by Riu Kushiki in 2012.
The Inerasable, a ghost story surrounding a mystery novelist investigating a complicated history of evil, was a film that instantly caught my eye at the Japanese Film Festival. Whilst none of the promotional images grabbed me, the film was directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura, who directed The Snow White Murder Case (2014), which was a beautiful (in both concept and execution) film about the effects of rumours and the influence of the media. I was instantly on board, and him taking on the horror genre felt appropriate after the dark drama of Snow White.
The film, like Snow White before it, takes a conceptual style and absolutely nails it. The Inerasable jumps through time, slowly forming a story and linking up with all that we learn before it, letting the viewer feel the same sense of accomplishment as the characters as we dive into a history of hauntings. Starting from a letter sent to the unnamed mystery writer and narrator (Yuko Takeuchi) we begin to unravel the mystery surrounding a certain haunting, but as the characters get deeper the mystery only widens. Every new clue leads to new questions, every fact they nail down or link they find only deepens the mystery.
It feels a bit like a Stephen King novel, only a lot tamer. The elements at play are suspenseful and, though they never quite reach scary, there are choice moments that can send chills through the viewer. The sounds the ghosts make, and the insane young man who snuck under a woman’s house and told her to kill as she slept certainly leave an impression. The idea of home imprisonment that the movie touches on was a terrifying concept based in reality, however it didn’t hold focus for very long.
The story flow, the writing and the performances are all on point, as was to be expected from Yoshihiro Nakamura’s direction, with characters feeling quite fleshed out and alive (as this film is based on a book, there’s a lot more personality available for the actors to channel in their characters). Yuko Takeuchi plays her role as the main character and narrator very well, finding a comfortable place between being skeptical and analytical, and believing in something more as she actively follows memory based links. Ai Hashimoto, who plays the role of the girl who sends the initial letter to the writer and gets embroiled in the mystery, plays her supporting role well.
There are a few lines surrounding characters that seem to go nowhere, notably when Yuko Takeuchi’s character introduces her husband Naoto (Kenichi Takito) as the more skeptical of the two of them in regards to the supernatural mysteries she writes on. His skepticism is never called into question and never really plays a part in any events within the film. This is quite excusable, however, in regards to a central theme the film plays around, the idea (that is explicitly put forward by the narrator) that oftentimes hauntings can’t just be explained, that sometimes things just are and all the digging in the world will just end at the same conclusion. The idea of things being as they are is present throughout the film, despite all the investigation that goes on.
I left feeling confused about how I felt about the film; on one hand I absolutely loved The Snow White Murder Case and the stylistic content of the film was on point, a good concept realized well. But, on the other hand, it was very tame, never providing the emotional weight that Snow White brought, and it never really delivered any scares despite the scenes with the shadows being geared at that. A well executed film with a sense of intrigue drawing the viewer in, but not succeeding so much on the genre elements. I really enjoyed The Inerasable as a mystery/supernatural film; the horror feels weak but it is well told and well executed.
Haunted Campus, directed by Satoshi Takemoto, is a horror hybrid with a particular focus on romantic comedy, and it’s certainly fun. The film follows Shinji Yagami (Yuma Nakayama), a university student who finds out his junior high school crush, who he never lost feelings for, just so happens to go to the same university. Through his bumbling attempts to get closer to her, Koyomi Nada (Haruka Shimazaki) enlists Shinji into the university’s occult club. The twist here is that, whilst Shinji claims on the surface to not believe in any sort of supernatural activity (despite being terrified of the thought of it), he’s always had the ability to see and interact with ghosts.
It feels a bit like anime, only in live action movie form, with the absurdity of reactions and the character types at play, and this makes for a rough entry point into the film as it feels poorly acted and off-kilter. However, as the film goes on, I warmed up to the goofiness and found it a charming point of sorts. It has an aura of a teen film, with a romance plot surrounded by the supernatural and the main character’s crippling inability to convey his feelings to the one he loves, however it gets into some very dark elements without missing a beat. One moment the film is a light-hearted supernatural comedy, in the next the characters are discussing a ghost’s life of rape, unwanted pregnancy and eventual child murder.
In Japan the horror genre goes hand-in-hand with idol culture, and both the main actors in this film are associated with this culture. Haruka Shimazaki is currently a member of girl group AKB48, whilst Yuma Nakayama is a former member of NYC. Nakayama’s acting feels a little awkward when it comes to the more serious moments, never quite leaving the goofiness that his character embodies throughout the comedic scenes. Whereas, on the other hand, Shimazaki’s acting and image fit quite well in both genres (albeit clichéd, her performance was quite good, certainly better than her last film Ghost Theatre (2015), although better writing could be at play there as well). There are a lot of new faces in this film for me, but there were a few familiar as well; Haruka Shimazaki is adorable as the naive love interest, and it was great seeing Maryjun Takahashi (who featured in two Sion Sono films, The Virgin Psychics (2015) and Tag (2015), however the acting was very clichéd and each character fit into that sort of anime trope.
There were a lot of charming points, each of the members of the club approaching Shinji one after the other and telling him the same thing was hilarious, and got a big laugh from the crowd at the Japanese Film Festival, as did Rintaro Kuronuma (Kentaro Yasui) falling in the water. It was over-the-top but very fun comedy. The way the film handles the extreme content discussed is also quite well done, it’s not skirted around but it’s also not dived into hard enough to derail what is essentially a rom-com at heart. Certainly worth consideration if you’re after some cliche anime-esque comedy mixed with some heavy horror themes, however the goofiness and awkwardness of the comedy side takes considerable impact away from any of the more serious content.
These were the two specifically horror genre films at the festival, however there was a fair share of incredibly dark films that sometimes had more horror elements than these two films. My personal top picks from the whole festival would be Night’s Tightrope, The Inerasable, and the very fun (and not at all dark or horror leaning) Sanada Ten Braves (2016). I was a little sad to not see Sadako vs. Kayako on the schedule for the festival, but there were still a fair few films worth a watch. In regards to the two films I discussed here, I really enjoyed The Inerasable from start to finish; as a genre film it doesn’t quite hit the right notes, but it’s written and presented very well. I’d much more highly recommend The Snow White Murder Case but The Inerasable is still a worthy watch. Haunted Campus was fun, definitely, and I did laugh quite a few times through the film, but the beginning was tough to get into and it wasn’t particularly special and I don’t think I’ll be revisiting the film soon.
The 2oth Japanese Film Festival was a fantastic event and I’m looking forward to seeing what next year brings. For more details please visit: https://japanesefilmfestival.net/.