Genre: Video Game-Based Mystery
review in one breath
In terms of video/PC games, I generally prefer those which focus on heavily armored robots with heat-seeking missiles. There is, however (and amazingly enough), another, entirely different genre of game which involves you exploring every nook and cranny of an environment to discover clues (which generally lead to keys which help you unlock further clues) into some over-arching sinister mystery. In the West, games like Myst or Riven, or more recently Syberia are exemplars of this genre.
Those familiar with this genre of game are far better equipped to understand or accept the basic premise pursued in director Shimoyama Ten's Otogirisou (aka St. John's Wort). This is because the story taking place within the film is that of such a game. Thus the physics, navigation and constraints of such a game are superimposed onto the world of our characters . There is an over-arching mystery to be solved. There is a large empty mansion filled with locked doors. There is a key ring containing enough keys to open most of the locked doors, but not all of them. There are old newspaper clippings and photographs to be discovered throughout the house which provide clues into the over-arching mystery. There are hidden rooms and staircases and a few shocking encounters.
It seems clear that Otogirisou is aimed precisely at an audience familiar with such computer games. Not only do the basic mechanics of the storyline abide by these rules, but the characters themselves are thoroughly immersed in just such a game's development and programming (giving the audience all kinds of glimpses into the makings of a game). Much of the characters' communication involves high tech equipment and sophistication, including what has to be broadband satellite access to the internet. (or was Kohei streaming those videos through his cell phone connection? I think not.) And heck, while we're pointing out the accomplishments of really hi-tech here, we ought to all bow down and worship the battery life of Japanese laptops. Not 2; not 4; not even 6 hours of continuous use will get in the way of your computing pleasure! With gadgets like these, is it any wonder that Godzilla retired this year?
But those are really trivial tech matters in what otherwise amounts to a very interesting film.
I don't think there's much reason to go into detail regarding the "over-arching" mystery or the storyline. Otogirisou isn't about its "mystery" or storyline. It is solely about the attempt to create a cinematic world derived from a popular PC game genre. In that regard, I think they succeeded, and I enjoyed the experiment. Suffice it to say that the mystery is indeed dark. Very dark. Not dark enough to be a supernatural "horror", but it certainly has a few bizarre elements to it and is certainly as plausible as any of the genre's game storylines. (By the way, Shimoyama's accomplishment thoroughly beats Western attempts to cinematically reproduce popular action genre games such as "Mortal Combat", "Dungeons and Dragons" or "Tomb Raider".)
Let me just tell you about the name Otogirisou, which is Japanese for the herb St. John's Wort. Prior to seeing this film, I looked into the mysterious powers of this ancient herb, thinking that it might somehow provide clues into the film. Unfortunately, the only healing powers attributed to the herb have to do with the urethral trac, which caused me no small amount of pondering into what the film's subject matter might be. Suffice it to say that the film is named after the herb Otogirisou only because the mansion's front lawn is full of them. No urethral connotations whatsoever.
I enjoyed Otogirisou. It was frequently comedic, sometimes sexy. It also had very good music and sound score. And I appreciate the homage to a popular PC game genre. I will certainly watch this again, if not simply for the eye candy.
|Unique and interesting experiment attempting to merge RPG game worlds and cinema.||One or two "cringe" moments, and some implied cruelty.||Unfortunately, the game this film is based on is NOT "Leisure Suit Larry".||Although popular "action" games have been made into (flop) movies, this may the a unique attempt to cinematically explore a game (albeit fictitious) of the RPG genre.|