I know pretty much nothing about "Tales of Terror," but here's what I've gathered after watching a select handful of episodes: The series, produced for Japanese television, is a collection of short films - all running five minutes in length - that supply airtight thrills. All the films are written by Kihara Hirokatsu and Nakayama Ichirô, whose ghostly yarns are then interpreted by a rotating roster of directors. To match the stories' quick-and-dirty feel, the series is filmed on digital video.
The central point of the series is to sidestep the over-the-top violence common in extreme J-horror productions; instead, we get quieter, more psychological chills. (Fans of ultra-gory Asian horror may yawn at the slower pace, but I'm a sucker for this style of terror and found it far more effective than the extreme stuff.) While other tales sneak in every now and then, ghost stories are the main ingredient, leaving each short playing as a campfire story of sorts.
My introduction to these shorts came courtesy of Tokyo Shock's release "Tales of Terror from Tokyo and All Over Japan: Volume Three Part 1," the fourth disc in the series (if you count the "Tales of Terror" movie) released Stateside. The disc collects thirteen episodes, and as is to be expected from any anthology, the results are widely varied. The best way to discuss this disc, then, is to take a brief peek at each film individually.
"The Red Eyes." A woman awakens to the shock of a ghostly child strangling her. This is the first in a recurring theme - ghosts in the bedroom - that brings sharp horror to the sudden feeling that you're not actually alone in your safest of safe places. It's a nice opener, setting the right tone for the entries to come, although even at five minutes it feels a bit too long.
"Tell Me." Two teens sneak into a haunted house, leaving a third behind. Upon their return, they refuse to discuss the horrors they saw inside. Genuinely creepy in spots, especially in that final shot, an unexplained jolt. (The series excels at unexplained jolts, which are admittedly far eerier than the clarified-plot kind.)
"Another One." A man checks into a hotel, only to discover, yes, he is not alone. A playful tone gives this a nice anecdotal feel, and you might even smile at a couple of the later bits.
"The Men in Black." Kid takes pictures of something bad, goes missing; kid's friend, who has the roll of film, gets harassed by strange men. Obnoxious childlike whimsy is mercifully replaced by increasingly strange doings and a deliciously bizarre ending.
"My Wife's Coming." A man visits his aging uncle, who tells of encounters with the ghost of his dead wife. The most straightforward of the bunch, this too-typical ghost yarn has its moments, but fades from memory rather quickly.
"Purification Doesn't Work (The Bloodied Armor)." A helmet once worn by an actor who died while wearing it is discovered by a young prop master, who soon sees a ghost. Despite a rather engaging first half, the second half rushes through the rest of the story, clumsily jumping from idea to idea in order to beat the five minute clock. The best entries here are the ones that get everything to fit just right within the limited time; this one's the lone entry that needs a longer running time just to make things work.
"Overtime 1." Or, the reason to watch this disc. An urban legend about people who meet cruel ends if they work overtime on a certain day of the month is ignored by a young accountant suckered into staying late. This one's a terrific combination of thrills and laughs, with the lend slowly getting the better of the poor guy. And while it works perfectly on its own, unexplained ending and all, it also works beautifully with...
"Overtime 2." The conclusion has the accountant convinced his fears were for nothing, but wait a sec, maybe the legend is right after all. More tension and less comedy in this second half, which seems a mean thing to do to a guy we were just starting to like.
"Red Tricycle." A woman's attempts to dispose of a childhood toy are thwarted by its puzzling return. Another tight yarn with that anecdotal campfire feel, a nice use of atmosphere makes up for any inherent silliness in the concept.
"Shadows Sitting By Their Feet." Insomnia keeps a teenage girl awake long enough to watch those clichéd long hair ghosts appear in a hotel room shared by the girl's friends. By now, the ghosts-in-the-bedroom theme has become redundant, and the episode becomes rather dull in the process. Looking back on the short's final scene (which seems inspired by one of those "stories of the unexplained" books detailing strange phenomenon), there's so much more that could have been done with the concept.
"Ghost House." School girls plan to videotape their excursion into an apparently haunted house. Another so-so entry with a twist ending that fails to astonish in the least. This is another of the more forgettable chapters.
"The Breath of Mononoko." Monster attacks woman in parking garage. Take any monster-chases-woman sequence from any random creature feature, and that's what you have here. There's so little tension because we've seen it a zillion times before, even the part where she falls down. (Wisely, the monster remains unseen - the glimpse we're giving of its furry arm earns some unintentional giggles.)
"The Bride." A man, left alone for the evening in his apartment, is assaulted by ghosts, one of whom may or may not be his dead wife. (It's never explained if his shock is just from seeing a spirit, or from seeing a familiar face.) Some very chilling imagery and a pinch of extra character work salvages this from being just another ghost story.
Video & Audio
As stated, "Tales of Terror" was filmed on digital video, and as such, the quality varies wildly from short to short. Even when the image is at its grainiest, that's not such a hindrance, as it adds a bit of sinister ambiance to the dark and dirty production. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1). The soundtrack is a simple yet usually highly effective Dolby stereo, with English subtitles.
Just a few trailers for other Tokyo Shock releases.
Most of these shorts are so very much well worth watching. And yet I'm wondering why this release needs to be a "Part 1," as the running time is only slightly over an hour. Surely Tokyo Shock could have waited to put all of this volume onto one disc. It's for this reason only that I'm recommending you just Rent It, especially considering you'd be paying full price for only an hour's worth of content.