It is fair to say that Japanese director Hideao Nakata is one of the figureheads of the modern Asian horror boom. While always a popular genre, his series of Ring films pretty much provided one of the launching points for the supernatural horror trend that spread across Japan, Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, and eventually the US where his Ring and Dark Water were successfully remade and he was imported to helm the Ring Two. He's also, according to rumors, apparently been tapped to direct a US remake of the HK horror flick The Eye and a remake of The Entity.
This DVD release contains a trio of horror stories he directed for Japanese televison. I did a little digging- admittedly the emphasis should be on the word ‟little‟- and couldn't find out much about the actual show. It appears to be a typical little half hour horror show with stand alone episodes devoted to different horror stories that are supposedly true, perhaps based upon stories submitted by viewers? Each story opens by saying ‟Based on a story by so-and-so from such-and-such.‟
The episodes are: The Cursed Doll. A high school girl named Satomi tells her acting class buddies about some weird dreams she's been having about a living doll, which lead her to discover the doll tucked away in the families storage closet. She's told it is an old family heirloom but suspects that isn't the entire truth. Her psychic school chum Etsuko warns her that she's getting bad vibes, but Satomi is slowly becoming bewitched and the doll more alive, deadly, and hellbent on vengeance. ‟The Spirit of the Dead‟. A boy named Yuta and his mother go on a camping trip with her friend and her friend's two kids. Yuta and mom need a little relaxation because they just lost Yuta's father. The park ends up not being such a great place (You think they'd ask, ‟What's with all those missing kid posters?‟) because there is a water spirit living in river that wants to lure in children. The ghostly water witch seems unrelenting in chasing them, but, thanks to a ghost dad moment that doesn't involve Bill Cosby, they are saved. Finally, there is The Haunted Inn. Bubbly schoolgirls Kyoko, Yukari, and Akemi decide to have a little weekend vacation by staying at a traditional inn. Kyoko has a bad feeling about their room and is disturbed when she has a bad dream about a girl ghost with a broken neck, prompting her and the grils to switch rooms. Kyoko and Akemi leave immature Yukari alone behind the next day and return to find her acting odd, quickly realizing she has become possessed by the troubled ghost of one of the inn's former residents.
Well, Curse, Death, & Spirit seems to be aimed at children. The scares are pretty basic. I mean, for instance, it has the old horror stand-by, the killer doll, which I've always thought was a horror device born to scare children because no right-minded adult should be creeped out by a two and half foot doll. Okay, maybe if a doll actually attacked me, I'd be momentarily freaked out, but after a second or two I'd just punt that sucker into the stratosphere.
In terms of how these episodes fit into the Hideao Nakata resume, I'd say, not very well. You do see some hints of his talents, imagery, and taste, from the ol' scary chicks with long hair (a Japanese horror tradition) and ghosts captured on videotape. But, the tv format really takes Nakata out of his element. His horror is more the brooding sort, which is probably the most devisive thing about him with horror fans. Sometimes the simmering works to imbue a film with dread like the original Ring/Ringu. Sometimes it comes across as boring and oblique, like in the US Ring Two. The rhythm of televison robs him of making a framework, taking his time, and slowly building to the scares. Plus, you know, it's for the kids.
The DVD: Urban Vision
Picture: Full-Screen, Standard. Wasn't expecting much, it is foreign televison and low budget televison at that, so I got what I expected. Tape-sourced, not a high-end affair really, so there are the standard quirks, like slightly faded levels that really cut into the overall amount of visual info. Sharpness, contrast, and color are all limited, a little blurry and weak, but, as I said, sort of expected.
Sound: Dolby Stereo, Japanese language with optional English subtitles. Likewise, limited but decent. Good subs, clear dialogue, and good fx and music score. The music is strictly keyboard stuff, and some of the fx is a real howl, like how one ghostie/spirit is accompanied by UFO sounds.
Extras: Image and Preview Gallery— Weblinks.
Conclusion: This is the kind of thing that really falls into the curiosity category. Fans of Nakata's films will want to note that this is more a work-for-hire vehicle so it doesn't really reflect his style very much. Besides that, Curse, Death, & Spirit is a horror show aimed at a more innocent audience, one that isn't likely to embrace subtitles or low production values. As a novelty, worth a rent, but not likely to get many spins from die hard Japanese horror fans.