Pretty boy disc jockey Shogo (Ryuta Sato) is the host of a radio call in show entitled Tokyo Love Line. Every night from midnight on Shogo takes calls from the disenfranchised and lovelorn citizens of Japan's capital city and doles out semi-sarcastic advice to them in hopes of helping them with whatever problems may be afflicting them. Shogo is also a rather condescending man who isn't afraid to push people around and use sarcasm and put downs to get a laugh at someone else's expense.
Shogo's show is popular, however and despite the fact that those who know him realize he's a bit of a jerk with success comes reward and so the radio station is building him a brand new studio. In the interim, Shogo and his crew will have to host the show out of Studio 6, an older and rarely used part of the station that is rumored to be haunted. Though it's only temporary, he and his crew start experiencing strange things almost from the start when their first call is interrupted by some static and a woman's voice which clearly says to Shogo that he is a liar.
The technicians tell him that this is nothing to worry about, that it's just a bad line picking up some other signal and to go on with the show. He obliges them, but soon finds himself having trouble paying attention to his job, as he zones out on callers and starts to get obviously wigged out. This is compounded when once again he is interrupted by that same voice calling him a liar.
Soon we realize that the calls that are coming in are describing incidents from Shogo's own past, incidents where he was in the wrong and where he hurt someone near and dear to him, someone who trusted him, only to further his own selfish agenda. Could the voice be someone pranking him or is it the spirit that supposedly caused another disc jockey to hang himself in this very studio decades ago before it was put on moratorium?
While the very idea of a haunted radio booth is, to be blunt, pretty stupid, this movie actually plays out quite cleverly and proves to at least benefit from an interesting premise and a few neat plot twists that you probably won't see coming. It builds fairly slowly but the pacing is definitely deliberate and as such, though it doesn't move fast, it does manage to conjure some sincerely suspenseful scenes. The movie also uses sound very effectively – when the woman's voice comes through the studio speakers it is scary, it's very distant sounding and quite otherworldly. Building off of this the filmmaker's also manage to work some other eerie and audible effects into the movie as it plays out, which works well in its favor.
The film is low budget but it's also low tech in that it doesn't call for a lot of special effects or crazy set pieces. The digital video format that it looks like it was shot on suits the material fine, however the movie does have one big strike against it and that is in the casting of Ryuta Sato in the lead. He comes across as arrogant and obnoxious and while this might be as much the fault of the way that the character was written as it is his performance, his attitude and mannerisms soon become grating. As such, we don't feel any sympathy for him so when the supernatural activity stirs up, we almost want the ghost to get rid of the guy. This hurts the film more than it should, and ruins what is otherwise a pretty clever little idea for a horror movie.
Aside from some mild trailing in a few scenes in the darker moments of the film, Tartan's 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is quite good. The black levels, which play an extremely important part in the effectiveness of certain scenes in this film, stay deep and strong and don't break up or pixelate at all. There is some moderate line shimmering in a couple of scenes but there aren't any issues with mpeg compression artifacts or serious edge enhancement. Color reproduction appears lifelike and accurate and there's a reasonably decent level of fine detail in both the foreground and the background of the image. Skin tones look healthy and realistic and overall the picture is generally quite sharp. Print damage is never a problem and the image is nice and clean.
The Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS 5.1 Surround Sound tracks on this DVD are decent. The dialogue and sound effects are nice and clear and there's enough power in the lower end to make for a few decent jump scares throughout the film. During the scenes where the ghost audibly manifests through the speakers in the radio station the surround channels really kick in and add some nice and very effective atmosphere to the movie. The levels are well balanced and there aren't any problems with the performers getting buried in the sound effects or in the background score. Optional subtitles are supplied in both English and Spanish and they prove to be clean, clear, and easy to read and free of any noticeable typographical errors. A Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0 track is also included.
Tartan has supplied a Making Of The Booth featurette that is simply a montage of behind the scenes shots presented without any context. There are also interviews with the director and with the lead actor, Ryuta Sato, that run a few minutes each – these provide a little more information on the making of the film but still really only scratch the surface. Also included is an 'On Air Interview' with the director and the cast that looks like it was done as part of a pre-release promotion when the film was released in Japan.
Rounding out the extra features are a trailer for The Booth, trailers for other Tartan Asia Extreme releases, and a still gallery.
The Booth deserves some credit for at least trying to do something new with the over populated Japanese ghost genre that's been all the rage for the last few years, and it succeeds to an extent. Sadly, the obnoxious performance from Sato brings the movie down a couple of notches and ruins the suspense. Genre fans might want to give this one a look anyway, just to check it out for themselves as it does have some creepy moments and a decent ending. Tartan's nice presentation makes this a solid rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.