Genre: Geographic-based Documentary Horror
review in one breath
An investigative team sets out to document their search for the mysterious Sugisawa Mura, an historically documented location which has disappeared from contemporary maps. Anecdotal tales link the location with several infamous incidents marked by the sudden rage, murderous acts and suicide of otherwise normal people. Their investigation leads them through a collection of unnerving interviews and locations until they finally arrive at what they believe to be the remote Sugisawa Mura.
Japanese culture literally brims over with traditional superstitions and folk lore of hauntings and spirits. I mean it is jam-packed full of ghost tales and notions of the supernatural whether you are in the large urban centers or the remote forested regions. The islands are littered with Shinto shrines and Buddhist memorials ever reminding passersby of an invisible world crowded by demons, ghosts and gods.
The Nihon Onnen Chizu series, of which there are currently three, consists of actual documentary-style investigations into geographical regions historically infamous for being hot-spots of ghostly activity. The film under review here is the first of this series and is directed by Shiraishi Kouji who, in addition to later directing the second in this series, also directed Honto ni Atta: Noroi Bideo (2003) and Jurei 2: Kuroi Jurei (aka The Uncanny - 2004). The subtitle of this film is Sugisawamura no Noroi or "The Curse of Sugisawa Village", referring to an historically documented "Sugisawa Village/Grove" which no longer appears on modern maps. A large body of anecdotal stories link this hidden Sugisawa Village with more contemporary incidents of suicide and murder, including the very notorious (historical) mass murder/suicide of a young man who suddenly cut down 30 victims with a sword and then killed himself.
This legacy of Sugisawa Mura seems to be actual traditional folk lore and was the subject of another documentary-style project entitled Chizu kara kieta mura: Sugisawa-mura no noroi [The Town which Disappeared from the Map: The Curse of Sugisawa Mura] directed by Yamaguchi Makoto, who also directed Kyoufu Gakuen (School Terror - 2001) and Kikuto no Nowareru Tapu (The Cursed Cassette Tape - 2001).
This 90 minute video documentary tenaciously pursues a rather impressive number of leads. Interviews point the team toward various (actual) locations relevant to the solution to the mystery of Sugisawa as they make their way step by step nearer their goal. What they uncover along the way is sheer unadulterated folk superstition which the locals fully believe.
It is this particular dimension of the Nihon Onnen Chizu series which is most palpable, since actual testimony of the demonic, although neither depicted nor dramatized, requires the audience to evaluate and judge what it is hearing. In other words, you do not have the same simple (mental) luxury which accompanies purely fictional horror films where at any fearful moment you can reassure yourself that what you are seeing is not real -- merely actors and make-up. Here you are confronted with real people recounting their experiences and real historical events and places now remembered by locals as reminders of bizarre (and scary) tragedies.
This is not really a "horror film" but rather a documentary-style investigation into historical superstition and the supernatural. There are no cast other than the investigative crew (comprised of three) and those they interview. There is no dramatizations other than the use of old newspaper articles, maps and video of ghostly locales at ungodly hours. And so there is very little attempted in the way of "shock moments" or climaxes. What audiences are pointed toward and thus left to ponder is simply the fact that JAPAN HAS SOME SERIOUSLY WHACKED OUT SPOOKY HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY.
I personally prefer tales which are historically or culturally grounded over purely fictitious works, and so I am perhaps inclined to appreciate or be impacted by this type of project more than most. And so I will suggest a qualified recommendation of this. This is not anything which would ever be remade for Western audiences, nor is it anything like Western "paranormal" documentaries of haunted houses you occasionally see, since what is uncovered is a rather complex layering of history (and superstition) which is wholly and uniquely Japanese.
Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS
|In many ways, this is nothing but (actual) local superstition arising out of (actual) tragic events at (actual) geographic locations.||Descriptions and recollections of suicides and (mass) murders.||Nope||You know, at some point I'm gonna start getting freaked out by all this.|