Hiroshi Takahashi, best known for writing Ring, writes and directs this film originally titled Kyofu but puzzling renamed as The Sylvian Experiments by distributor Lionsgate for its domestic DVD debut. Regardless of what title you want to give it, however, those hoping for something as suspenseful and legitimately frightening as the earlier and better known film will be sorely disappointed by this slow burn that feels more like a slow drag.
When the movie begins, we see a woman named Dr. Etsuko Hattori and her accomplice husband watching old grainy 8mm film footage of brain surgery experiments that were conducted years ago using various subjects who we assume were abducted. Text screens tell us that these 'patients' are of Manchurian, Russian and Japanese descent and they were discovered scurried away in the lower level of an old abandoned hospital. Hattori and her husband then realize they've been watched by their kids, Kaori and Miyuki, who are just sort of there staring at a strange, bright white light.
Some years later when the girls are all grown up, Miyuki vanishes from the Medical University where she's been studying. Kaori, Miyuki's boyfriend Motojima and a quirky detective named Hirasawa team up to try to find out what happened to her and where she's gone off to. What they discover ties back to Miyuki's past and the girls' parents and their bizarre experiments which are related to the Sylvian Fissure, a part of the human brain that, when stimulated, can result in hallucinations... very strange and very intense hallucinations at that.
The concept behind this film is an interesting one and the very idea of a scientist whose not quite playing with a full deck using her own children in some rather unorthodox experiments is one ripe with potential but sadly The Sylvian Experiments never quite gathers up the steam it needs and winds up muddy, convoluted and slow. Yes, the performances are decent all around with and yes the film does manage to conjure up some atmosphere here and there, particularly in the last half hour or so, but it's a bit too little too late. The script is the real problem here. Instead of telling a lean story with an emphasis on plot development and characters what we wind up with is a storyline that meanders, that jumps around a bit too much and that doesn't flesh out the characters enough for it to really matter as much as it should have. As the mystery of Miyuki's disappearance unravels, what should be a sense of impending doom and imposing horror instead feels contrived and crammed in. There are ideas here that work, but the execution of those ideas just doesn't translate very well to the finished product.
Hiroshi Takahashi deserves some credit for at least trying something new with this movie. The idea behind some of the experiments conducted on the various characters in the film is disturbing enough that it might resonate with those easily unsettled by horror films but there needed to be more to it than that. The build up here isn't bad, but come the half way point we wind up with a confusing and messy storyline that ultimately spoils the good that came before it.
The anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen transfer on this DVD is as good as you'd expect from such a recent film as this. The color scheme for the picture is quite cool so don't expect brighter shades to leap off the screen at you but the movie does look good on DVD. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts and only some slight edge enhancement is apparent. Print damage is a non-issue and detail levels are strong throughout. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and the darker, cooler colors used throughout the picture look nice here. There are a few moments with a bit of heavy shimmer but thankfully they're few and far between.
The Japanese language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix on this disc is quite nice. A few of the set pieces are up higher in the mix than maybe they needed to be but otherwise there's little to complain about here. Surround channels are used nicely at opportune moments and bass response is strong. Optional English subtitles are also included.
There are no extras on this disc, just a menu and chapter selection, though a few previews for unrelated releases play before you get to the menu.
As convoluted as it is predictable, The Sylvian Experiments provides only surface thrills, nothing lasting. The performances are fine and the camera work is decent - this is well put together on that level - but the story is slow and uninspired. Lionsgate's DVD looks and sounds fine but contains no actual extras of any merit. A rental for the Japanese horror diehard, but the rest can skip it.
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.