Genre: Postmortem Teen Angst
review in one breath
Although young Yuri suffers a fatal heart attack she finds herself unable to play dead. Instead, she lurches around dropping various body parts as she becomes more isolated and ostracized from her family and friends. When all other relationships and physical cohesiveness abandon her, she must decide her own fate. This is the second volume (of six) of manga artist Hideshi Hino's "Theater of Horror" now available in Region 1 release.
This is the second of six short stories in the collection entitled Hideshi Hino's Theater of Horror. For a bit of background on the manga artist Hideshi Hino, I'll refer you to my recent review of Boy from Hell.
Although each of the six films in this collection is directly based on specific characters and scenarios within Hino's horror manga, each is also the work of a different (up-and-coming) director.
The entire collection of Hideshi Hino's Theater of Horror consists of the following six films:
Boy from Hell (director: Mari Asato)
Dead Girl Walking (director: Kôji Shiraishi)
Death Train (director: Kazuyuki Sakamoto)
Doll Cemetery (director: Kiyoshi Yamamoto)
Lizard Baby (director: Yoshihiro Nakamura)
Ravaged House (director: Kazuyoshi Kumakiri)
The director of Dead Girl Walking is Koji Shiraishi who has graced the pages of SaruDama more than a couple times. His most recent horror film is the internationally released and passable Carved (2006). His earlier horror films/works include Nihon Onnen Chizu: Sugisawa Mura (2001), Honto ni Atta! Noroi Bideo: The Movie (2003), and Ju-Rei 2: Kuro Ju-Rei (2004) among others.
But don't look for too much ground-breaking horror here. All six of the "Hino Theater of Horror" collection are low-budget, Z-grade fare running 50 minutes apiece and from all appearances were originally intended as a (rather gruesome) made-for-TV series.
Although Hino's manga and writings are best known for their ultra degree of gore and gruesomeness, he frequently infuses some social commentary, usually in the form of skeptical critique of society's influence and demands upon individuals. The first film in this collection, Boy from Hell, contains zilch as regards such a message. But in Dead Girl Walking there is a strong focus on the experience of isolation and the corrosion of family and social relationships. By the end it proves itself to be (an attempt as) a redemptive tale, but as with most of Hino's skewed imaginations, the paths audiences are forced to take in order to reach that conclusion are a whole different matter completely.
The tale is framed in colored scenes involving a vibrant yellow flower which Yuri has carefully tended. But from the (very early) scene of her fatal heart attack to the closing images, the entirety of the film is shot in black and white. The change in color spectrum is not the only indication that Yuri has suddenly entered a different world. Her loving parents suddenly appear ashen, cruel and murderous, ultimately causing her to flee for her "life". Yuri then encounters a wholly surreal and nightmarish underground circus which uses her decaying body as a form of gruesome entertainment.
I mention all of this simply to suggest the following. In Shinto and Buddhist (particularly Tibetan Buddhist) traditions, one's conscious experience of "existence after death" entails two things, namely (1) the change of loved ones into a for more formidable and potentially malevolent form (as in the Kojiki), and (2) an increasingly difficult path of terror and trial on the way to re-birth (as in the Tibetan Book of the Dead). These two basic religious sensibilities seem to explain and provide an intelligible structure to this (otherwise unintelligible) storyline.
That's just my take on it and I offer it simply as something to think about should you venture to the extreme of actually seeing this.
On an otherwise normal morning, young Yuri is suddenly seized by a sudden chest pain from which she collapses to the floor. When she re-opens her eyes, she can overhear her distraught parents at the door speaking with a physician who has just pronounced her clinically dead, with no perceivable brain or heart activity. And yet she continues to be able to move and speak.
But her protests to her parents that she is not in fact dead are met with their vehement denial and accusatory stance. Despite their ability to see her moving and speaking, they seem wholly intent in forcing her to truly be dead. If this were not a bad enough nightmare, Yuri herself soon faces the reality of her deceased state once her flesh begins putrefying and her body begins (literally) falling apart.
Dismayed and in fear of her parents' sudden hatred of her, Yuri flees the house and must subsequently endure a gauntlet of bizarre and ostracizing scenarios. Though her mind is intact, her body quickly gives way as it decays and falls in bits and pieces, forcing her to either exert her will or pass into a putrid extinction.
I have to confess that I saw this a few year ago, prior to its US release, and couldn't quite bring myself to reviewing it due to its utter Z-grade status and 50 minute running time. But I admit that after watching it again, my respect for Dead Girl Walking has increased (albeit ever so slightly), perhaps solely in comparison to the guffaw-out-loud crapolla of Boy from Hell, another film in this collection (by a different director).
I personally like the work of director Shiraishi, not because of his ability to create convincing, polished Japanese horror (a skill I am still waiting for him to demonstrate) but because his projects generally involve something rather interesting (to me) and there is a very marked and noticeable progress in the quality of his films. So perhaps in the bigger picture of things Dead Girl Walking has some substantial merit.
As a stand-alone piece of J-Horror, however, I think it will be safe to say that we will all find ourselves on the same page. You know, that page where we all stare at each other murmuring "Why, Oh Why??".
Version reviewed: Region 1 Subtitled DVD (with English subtitles)
|Another off-beat work by director Shiraishi Koji. This one might even entail a vision or two of the karmic gauntlet awaiting those who die.||Some standard schlock gore including decaying, drooping body parts and oozing entrails. And some (backfiring) attempts at parent-on-child violence. But all this in monochrome (black and white).||Despite the circus scenes which uncannily resemble Flower and Snake, I sincerely suggest you don't think about that.||My theory is that this somehow traces Yuri's (Shinto and Buddhist-based) post-death gauntlet toward self-realization and ultimate rebirth. I hope that's right. If not, I need to recalculate this green skull score.|