Manga (Japanese comic) to anime to live-action film has been one of the formulas being done in Japan. "Love Ghost" is based on the manga titled "Shibito No Koiwazurai" (Translates to "Lovesick Dead") by Junji Ito; responsible for successful horror manga hits such as "Tomie" and "Uzumaki". The comic book had huge success in Japan, and as expected (as in any other place) comic book adaptations have become the trend in movies. Re-titled "Love Ghost" for reasons unknown, I rather thought "Lovesick Dead" would sound more intimidating; the film explores the premise of the spirit world mixed in with teenage girls looking for romance in odd places. Now, I haven't read the comic and I have only seen the film directed by Kazuyuki Shibuya so I cannot really say how faithful the film is to its source material.
The tale revolves around a pretty, young schoolgirl named Midori (Risa Goto), who returns to her hometown. When she arrives in school, she crosses paths with an old childhood friend, Ryusuke (Ryuhei Matsuda) who also happens to be her new classmate. There are whispers and rumors that there is a trend in the school that school girls are asking for their future in romance from a mysterious ghost boy, who is said to be able to predict if one will find their true love or not. However, this trend becomes bitter when a girl's misfortune encourages her to take her own life. Soon after, Midori finds herself entangled right in the middle of this paranormal activity and the web of different "love triangles" at school. Suzue (Asumi Miwa, Ju-on) and Tamayo (Yuki Inomata, Ringu TV series) both has eyes for Kotaro (Shinji Takahashi), who likes Midori. Midori in turn likes her childhood friend; Ryusuke...Usual teenage complications? Hardly.
The film's premise does seem your routine teen flick, much in the tradition of South Korea's "haunted school" (Whispering Corridors, Memento Mori, Wishing Stairs) trilogy and seems to borrow some elements from R. Avery's "Rules of Attraction". The film's story plays much like an Asian version in which the characters set off a chain of events that affect each other's lives through interaction and reactions. "Love Ghost" is actually more a teen drama/thriller than your run-of-the- mill horror film. The film is quite plot driven and it seemed like each character has more or less a link to someone else. Love triangles are aplenty which are actually put in center stage than its supernatural premise. The film is a drama with horror elements so viewers will have to embrace this as such rather than as a horror thriller it has been billed as. This is a Japanese film, so expect the usual twists about curses and sad back story, but thankfully, the film has a more intuitive plot and Shibuya's direction is more focused and reserved for its main purpose.
When I said Shibuya's direction is focused, it is because the style, cinematography and set designs have all the feelings of a comic book. Junji Ito's other writings have always explored obsessive and disturbing behavior and the direction complements this in the way he represents the effects of the supernatural on everyday teenagers (and people). The film is more a character study of the Japanese teen, the first half plays like a teen drama and then it goes to overdrive in the last 40 minutes. Shibuya's direction is quite adventurous and open for exploration, as he is obviously going for more than the usual thrills and tries an understanding of psychology on camera. The cinematography definitely has the manga-inspired style as the shots and camera positioning further emphasizes the comic book feel.
Now, the film does have its faults, some twists can be seen from a mile away and some revelations do require a suspension of disbelief. I don't want to spoil anything, but some characters just fade in the proceedings that I wondered what else might have happened. Also, the film does lack the usual thrills and chills in the beginning, that people looking for a fast-paced thriller may be a bit disappointed. The way to appreciate "Love Ghost" is to look beyond the usual horror gimmicks and pay attention to the development of the characters and the elements that work well.
Ultimately, I did enjoy "Love Ghost"; The main focus of the film is interesting enough to keep me entertained, that it successfully explores the psychological effects of the supernatural (and other folks) on regular everyday people. It opted to become a successful drama/thriller than an average gorefest with a vengeful ghost on the rampage. It will definitely not get the attention it deserves in the U.S. but it is worth the time to watch.