Genre: Low-budget Sci-Fi Horror
review in one breath
Enter another bizarre world from the mind of manga artist extraordinaire, Ito Junji! Oshikiri is based on the Ito Junji manga of the same name and delivers his characteristic exploration of strange phenomena whereby the darkest side of human nature emerges.
I think I'm beginning to understand Ito Junji. If you recall your high school days, there were undoubtedly times where you found yourself wondering what type of strange world you were born into. Perhaps you yourself felt out of place in the sea of socializing teens. Or perhaps you noticed a particular student who didn't quite fit into the whole. This dissonance is a frequent departure point for Ito's horror tales, and Oshikiri is a prime example of this.
Tooru Oshikiri (Tokuyama Hidenori) appears to be a normal high school boy. He attends school regularly, does somewhat well in school where he has a propensity for science, and leads a relatively normal life at home where he lives with his guardians, his aunt and uncle. But these otherwise normal external appearances do not reflect Tooru's internal world. He senses a relational chasm between he and his "friends", and those who are not his friends describe him as overly dark and brooding. He is the unapproachable, quiet, brooding boy the other students wonder about.
Tooru is having the same nightmarish dream over and over. He has had this dream since he was a young child and that fact can only mean there is some significance to it. But what significance could a dream have?
- The Dream:
A very young Tooru is living with his grandfather in a mansion-like house. Peering out the window very late at night Tooru witnesses the strangest scene. Bolting from the front doors of the house, a small phantom, wearing a long hooded robe and wielding a medieval axe, cuts down two people outside. As the horrified Tooru looks on, his grandfather and the phantom dig a hole in the adjoining woods and bury the bodies.
At this point in the dream Tooru wakes suddenly. Not only is this dream depriving him of sleep, causing him to under-perform at school, but it also increases his curiosity regarding his grandfather, with whom he did live as a child but remembers little else. Although he believes the dream is merely a dream, his aunt and uncle seem utterly unwilling to share any details regarding his childhood and his grandfather. The dream seems to be Tooru's only "memory" of that time.
During the day, Tooru tries to fit into his role in society. And although he manages to do so, he increasingly gains the reputation of an aloof, introspective boy. Thus while the other students spend their lunch break socializing together somewhere, Tooru quietly eats his lunch on the roof, alone and undisturbed. But there is one classmate that is sympathetic to Tooru's isolation, Fuji (Hatsume Eriko - who also appears in Ito's Uzumaki and The Long Dream). Fuji frequently joins Tooru on the roof in the hope of penetrating his exterior shell. Her attempts generally fail, however, and Tooru's preoccupation with his inner demons prevail. But Fuji has at least discovered something of interest regarding Tooru's background, which she passes along to the school's (extremely nerdy) Paranormal Investigation Club.
It seems that Tooru's grandfather Oshikiri was a renowned physicist who in his later years began espousing strange theories regarding parallel worlds. His views involved elaborate speculations into subatomic theory and often sounded more like fantasy than science. It was during this period that the young Tooru was living with his grandfather. All that abruptly ended with the sudden disappearance of the grandfather and the brutal murder of two people on the premises. The nerdy troupe expect supernatural foul play and requests Tooru's cooperation in guiding them through the old mansion-like house. Once they hand him his grandfather's published work, in which he reads the very words he has heard in his dreams, he agrees to help them investigate.
Tooru visits the old house by himself to look for possible information regarding his grandfather and the days he spent there. The house appears to have been completely abandoned during the ten years since his grandfather's disappearance. In his grandfather's study he finds handwritten research journals outlining the developing theories of his grandfather, and some bizarre photographs, one of which seems to depict the young Tooru suspended near the ceiling, halfway through the wall as if he were sinking through the building. As he stands in disbelief looking at the photo, he hears someone shuffle past the door and out of the corner of his eye he can see a figure in a long robe. Chasing after the figure he is led through the house's dark corridors and into a small room with a gaping hole in one of the walls. Within the hole is a swirling vortex which, as it spins faster and faster, splits into two. As he stands mesmerized at the sight, the robed phantom emerges from the mouth of the hole and slowly reaches out toward him.
Tooru wakes up on the floor of the small room, unsure of how much time has passed. The gaping hole no longer contains any swirling vortex, but is instead black and empty. Unsure as to what to make of his experience, Tooru leaves the house and heads home. Strangely, however, every aspect of the world seems a bit different. His uncle and aunt are much more authoritarian and retributive than they had been. His friends at school now seem to be bullies intent on harassing him. Even the otherwise strict and disciplined Physics teacher seems to have gone off the deep end (!!) and begins describing the molecular basis for infinite parallel worlds. Oddly enough, Tooru now seems to be the most well-adjusted person in a town which has gone suddenly grim and nasty.
The only one who seems unchanged is Fuji, who continues to meet with Tooru on the school roof. On this day, however, she explains to him that everyone is gossiping about how much Tooru looks the sinister grave digger haunting the woods. Things turn from strange to dire when his classmates' turn against him in the belief that Tooru is in fact the murderous grave digger. His situation is not helped much by the sudden appearance of THE robed phantom who gleefully beheads several classmates with a large medieval broad axe.
Has Tooru's world completely spun out of control? Who is this hooded phantom and what is its relation to Tooru and his grandfather? And what about the swirling vortex he saw coming through the wall of his childhood home? WHAT COULD ALL THIS POSSIBLY MEAN??
Putting a wildly popular manga author's world into cinematic depiction is undoubtedly a daunting task. Just look at how poorly some attempts have fared. Oshikiri will certainly be subject to the same criticism given its relatively small production budget. And indeed, this will certainly not be listed in anyone's "greatest special effects" list. However, Oshikiri does have several important things going for it. First is a cinematic style which often palpably echoes the foundational Uzumaki (which was released 7 months prior to this). Not only do we get to hear the "guru guru guru" line, but the manga-like use of tones and hues truly bring out the nightmarish nuances implied in the storyline. The cast is also successful here. Hatsume Eriko (Fuji) will ultimately appear in three Ito-inspired films. Tokuyama Hidenori (Tooru) appears also in Crossfire and Haunted School (1998). And Amamoto Eisei (grandpa Oshikiri) is "one of Japan's most distinctive character actors" (IMDB.com) and has appeared in over 100 films since his debut in 1954.
Definitely check this one out if you have the chance, especially if you are an Ito fan.
Note on the version I reviewed: This review is based on an unsubtitled VHS version. The movie is quite dialogue-heavy, particularly (and excruciatingly) in terms of scientific (atomic / subatomic) vocabulary. This was fun to watch and the axe murders didn't require alot of interpretative skill, but when it comes time for grandpa Oshikiri to explain what the hell is going on, you better grab your Japanese Physics Dictionary and turn the volume up! woo hoo!
|This is a rather obscure film (in the West) based on Ito Junji's manga. Certainly something connoisseurs (of the j-bizzarro, such as yourself) will undoubtedly enjoy experiencing.||One medieval broad axe used in a variety of creatively fatal ways.||No sex, but you can hear Tooru and Fuji whispering something about a "fruit sandwich"... hmmm.||This is a creative and entertaining tale. There have undoubtedly been other stories about "parallel worlds", but here you can enjoy Ito Junji's rather anti-social perspective on what lies beneath the surface of everyday human nature. (Pass the axe, please.)|