REVIEW: GUROZUKA (2005)
One of my all-time favorite Japanese horror films is Nakata’s RINGU (1998), a film I first picked up while at a comicbook convention when I was in my early 20’s. It was my introduction to Japanese horror films and had it been any other horror film I may not have gotten so into J-Horror and just stuck to anime. The film GUROZUKA had elements of RINGU in it, as well as many American slasher films from the ‘80s and even more current ones such as SCREAM (which really pays homage to slasher films like HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13th).
GUROZUKA starts off with a very cool setting for a film: A group of girlfriends get together for a getaway to rehearse and perform a play for their private film club, taking along with them an adult chaperone who teaches at their school. What some of the girls don’t know is that this location, isolated up in the wooded mountains, was the previous location for a similar group doing the same thing and that one of the girls went insane and another went missing, but not before killing off some of the other girls while recording it all to videotape. The killer was wearing a Japanese “deigan” mask and looks freaky as hell!
This mysterious videotape of the murders and play shows up at the cabin and the girls watch it. They start to get a little bit freaked out and when the rumors of what happened at this cabin start to become reality, odd things start to happen: Their food supply goes missing and friends start disappearing. The chaperone goes for help, fully not believing that any evil powers or work is at hand, and the rest of the girls are left to figure out who, or what is doing all this. Who is to be trusted?
I liked the tone and pace of the film. It really felt like I was watching a who-done-it/slasher film. There were plenty of elements of horror and creepy imagery rampant throughout the film, but at times I felt that the imagery should have been used in more strongly. The scenes titillated my appetite for fear and terror, but did not outright freak me out. Films such as GUROZUKA have great potential to effectively scare the crap out of a viewer when done right. Granted, there were a few jump-scares in the movie, but they were few and far between. I thirsted and craved for more!
I thought the acting in the film was pretty solid and only wished for more gore, scenes of blood, and more intensity throughout the movie. Like I said, the story premise for the film was solid and I just wish director Yoichi Nishiyama worked on the horror-aspect and creepy visuals a bit more. The scenes in which the deigan-masked killer was filmed walking brisk like, either in flashback or brief glimpses, were very effective and overall creepy. There should have been more of these scenes shot with more intensity. Most of the scenes of the victims getting murdered were not shown, or only flashes of the deaths were in the movie. It did add to the mystery of the film, but when the murdered victims were found, the shots were brief and the blood and gore was minimal. One victims’ throat was slashed (that I could tell) and the others either looked choked to death or just had splats of blood on their articles of clothing. I thought the gore effects could have used a bit more gore.
As far as a horror film in the genre of Japanese horror films, it was above average and better than most I have seen. Sadly, quite a few of the Japanese horror films have been falling flat and fail to entertain me. The cast comprised of Nozomi Ando (Tomie: Saishuu-sho-kindan no kajitsu (2002)) as Takako, Yukari Fukui as Yuka, Yuko Ito as Yoko, Yuko Kurosawa as Natsuki, Yoko Mitsua (Noriko’s Dinner Table (2005) as Maki), Chisato Morishita (The Locker (2004)), and Keiko Saito as Yayoi. I recognized Nozomi Ando because she was not just in TOMIE, but also GAMERA 3: REVENGE OF IRIS and I am a huge fan of the Gamera movies (Sorry Godzilla lovers!). If fans of Japanese films are reading this review than they may recall having heard of another film of Nishiyama’s entitled PERFECT EDUCATION 2: 40 DAYS OF LOVE (2001), a film that deals with the justification of rape and one’s loss of personal freedom and choice (and that is putting things lightly!)
The Synapse DVD features a “behind-the-scenes” segment on the disc as well as the trailer. Thankfully, the extra features footage is subtitled and was interesting to watch. I hate it when foreign films have a special features segment and don’t offer any subtitles for the domestic U.S. release, even though the film itself is fully subtitled. GUROZUKA runs 84 minutes long, comes in Dolby Digital Japanese 2.0 Stereo and an Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1) Presentation.
For fans of the Japanese horror, or horror just in general, GUROZUKA is a bit above the rest of the genre’s films but does suffer from having a lack of bite for this viewer. I felt that if the filmmakers piled on some more blood, gore, and scares- it would have made for a much more enjoyable ride.