Certain familiar elements have plagued Japanese-horror the past few years, formulaic approaches, some cheap scares, and the usual haunting music. KAIDAN-Ghost Story (2007) is however a breath of fresh air in the genre of J-horror; the film is a homage to classic romantic ghost stories. The film is directed by Hideo Nakata, the same director responsible for "Ringu" and "Dark Water". Forget cursed objects, haunted technology and long-haired ghosts, the film while not as engaging as Kobayashi's 1960‘s classic "Kwaidan" is a welcome change for those viewers very familiar with modern J-horror such as "Ju-On", "Ringu" and "Kairo". Lionsgate entertainment has invested in this Japanese film so expect a region-1 release very soon. (unless they decide on a remake instead)
250 years ago, Soetsu, a kindly moneylender is murdered by a samurai named Fukami and his lifeless body disposed of in the Kasanegafuchi (Kasane's plunge), the pool of water that snakes around and legend has it that those who sink in the water will never surface again. Some 25 years later, in a chance encounter; Fukami's son, Shinkichi (Kikunosuke Onoe) meets a wealthy and beauteous if older woman named Oshiga (Hitomi Kuroki) who is also the daughter of Soetsu. Shinkichi becomes smitten by Oshiga and she returns his feelings. The two begin to live together but strange things begin to occur. Then one day, after a lover's quarrel, Oshiga had fallen ill and due to the stress of taking care of his loved one, Shinkichi develops an attraction to a comely young woman named Oshisa. On the night of Oshiga's demise, she leaves a note for Shinkichi " If you ever re-marry, I will haunt your new wife to the grave…"
Shinkichi has doomed any woman who dares to fall in love with him.
KAIDAN is a well constructed ghost story with some "borrowed" elements from Kwaidan's "Woman of the Snow" and "Black Hair". The film is about slow-build ups and restrained suspense; and to be honest is quite successful in what it set out to do. The thing I liked about the film is that it doesn't rely on cheap scares and the film's script is more a period piece that avoids the usual formulas set with haunted technological devices or objects, and while there is a ghost in this film, the reasons behind the haunting is quite credible. No, if you are looking for images on a mirror, or shadowy figures floating around, then you came to the wrong film. While it does have scenes with minor use of CGI and extreme spooky close-ups, the film feels like an old-fashioned horror film reminiscent of "Kwaidan" and "Onibaba". How creepy can a staring baby be? Very much so.
The film is structured as a character-driven melodrama with elements of karma and existential fatalism. Shinkichi is viewed as an attractive young man, no wonder so many beauteous women become smitten by him. In his younger days, he also easily becomes attracted to women and the film delves into the ironic fact that Shinkichi should reconsider remarrying as he undoubtedly would bring ruin to any woman who would love him. The film presents the terror of actually falling in love again and all the film's twists and turns are effective enough to keep me interested. It creates fear and terror in its systematic approach. We get to explore some bits of Japanese folklore and one very effective device this film has is the feeling of dread--you will definitely feel that the film will only get worst before if it EVER does get better; and that feeling is quite a delight if you ask me.
There is also an abundance of cuts in the film that symbolizes ruination. The old adage; "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" would come to mind and will serve as the film's most effective selling point. While I was pleasantly surprised with its old-fashioned horror elements, the film is not perfect, it did have its share of flaws. Some ideas were presented but weren't given closure as with Shinkichi and Orui's baby. Osono, Oshiga's sister, is also underdeveloped; you see her in the first act and her "chance" second meeting with Shinkichi felt a little too convenient. Shinkichi's father-in-law's mistress, Oshizu seemed like a simple plot device to get the film to its intriguing last act.
Regardless of its faults, "KAIDAN" is a very effective piece of Japanese horror. It is an old-school type of horror film that will make you absorb its experience and the more familiar you are with ritualistic details from Japan, the better you'll like it. The film focuses all its energy and momentum in its last 40 minutes and even displays some bloody samurai hacking and slashing. "Kaidan" is very abundant in context, and nicely presents the balance between redemption, obsession and destruction. The film is evenly paced, it outlasts most Asian Horror films and it never overstays its welcome.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! [4+ Stars]
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