While watching movies, I often like to imagine what the "pitch" was -- that is, what was the idea that the filmmaker(s) presented to a producer in order to get the film made. I usually generate these ideas in the traditional "this movie" meets "that movie" format which has become the formula for Hollywood meetings. While watching the Japanese film Cursed, all that I could think was, "This is Ju-On meets Clerks!" That thought was immediately followed by the notion that the producer who heard this pitch should have had the people on the other side of his desk escorted from the building immediately.
Cursed is set in a convenience store. As the film opens, we meet a spunky teenaged girl named Nori (Hiroko Saato), who works at the store as a part-time cashier. The store is owned by the very creepy Mr. Kitaura (Osamu Takshashi) and his equally weird wife (Etsuyo Mitani) -- a couple who spend their whole day simply watching the security system monitors. Ryoko (Kyoko Akiba), a representative of "OK Mart", visits the store as her employers are interested in purchasing Mr. Kitaura's business. Kitaura is very cold towards Ryoko, who must now record the inventory of the store in order to determine if it's worth purchasing. From then on, Ryoko and Nori begin to witness the very bizarre things which happen in the store.
As the film progresses, it becomes a series of vignettes. When a customer's purchases total 666 yen (or any variation of that number), Cursed then leaves the store and follows this customer home where meet some sort of violent demise. Meanwhile, odd things continue to happen in the store, and after witnessing many strange things, Nori decides to try and save her co-workers.
Only those who don't follow movies at all would have to be unaware of the recent spate of American remakes of Asian horror films. These films are often lambasted by fans of Eastern horror as being unoriginal. Well, Cursed proves that Asian horror film makers can be just as unoriginal, as the film features ideas which come from many other sources. As noted above, the film certainly owes a debt to Ju-on, as the store becomes the epicenter for an epidemic of deaths. The problem here is there's no explanation for why these random customers die, unlike the curse in Ju-on. Also, the way in which the customers pass on varies from victim to victim, adding more confusion to the story. (The majority of the deaths are caused by supernatural circumstances, but one victim is killed by a typical "slasher". What's up with that?) One could assume that these individuals have obtained the "curse" from the title, but any explanation would have helped.
Then we have the goings-on in the store. Mr. Kitaura and his wife have the air of characters from a David Lynch film. An odd person who resembles the killer from Urban Legends wanders the store (and attacks an employee in a laughably bad scene). When a meager explanation for the problems in the store is finally given, one expects for everyone involved with the making of Poltergeist to suddenly appear to make Cursed stop. Even the one moment in the film that I found effective was taken from Ghostbusters. The special effects in the film are shoddy and the direction lacks any creativity. The idea of a haunted convenience store is a good one and Cursed shows some flashes of promise, but the final result is boring, and worst of all, has been done better elsewhere.
Cursed arrives courtesy of Unicorn Entertainment International Limited. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The movie has the look of something that was shot on high-end video. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. The colors are very good and show no oversaturation. However, the image is overly bright at time and shows the sort of video noise and haloes which are common with shot-on-video productions. In whole, the transfer looks good despite some minor problems.
The DVD features the original Japanese language track in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. (There is also a Cantonese Dolby 2.0 track.) Both tracks provide clear and audible dialogue and nice music reproduction. Both tracks are free from hissing and defects. The tracks offer a nice use of surround sound and bass effects during the "horror" scenes, which adds a much needed touch to this film. The subwoofer effects are notably good on the DTS track. Be warned, the English subtitles on this DVD are easy-to-read, but they are show a horrible translation which rarely makes any sense (this may have contributed to the fact that the movie made little sense). The subs are filled with grammatical mistakes and English which would embarrass a pigeon.
The running time given on the DVD box for Cursed is 91 minutes. However, the film actually runs only 81 minutes. This longer running time includes the two extras on the DVD which play automatically when the film ends. They can also be viewed from the main menu. There is a 5-minute "Making of" featurette which features an interview with Hiroko Saato who speaks while behind-the-scenes footage plays. This extra contains more of those bad English subtitles, as she discusses what it was like to work on her first film. The other extra is a trailer for the film Tokyo Psycho.
While Hollywood is busy remaking Asian horror films, it appears that at least one group of Japanese filmmakers are busy borrowing movie ideas from many sources. While a vast majority of Asian films give us a unique idea or perspective, there is nothing new in Cursed and the film's plodding and episodic nature only make it more of a challenge to watch.