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This film was the first sequel to Hideo Nakata's Ring. Filmed and released into cinemas in Japan at the same time as Ring, The Spiral picks up the story of the cursed video tape at the point where the psychic doctor Ryuji Takayama dies and then boldly takes the narrative off in a completely different direction. While the supernatural Sadako is still wreaking havoc from beyond the grave, this show drops much of the original film's 'horror' elements and instead embraces themes which have more in common with the apocalyptic science fiction films of the mid-Seventies. (....Spoiler begins) A little like Jerry Cornelius in Robert Fuest's underrated The Final Programme, Mitsuo Ando is unwittingly drawn into participating in an almost alchemical scientific experiment that will have far reaching consequences for all concerned (....spoiler ends). That said, Iida gets to turn up the chill factor a little during the sequences where he makes use of the disturbing iconography associated with Sadako's back-story.
The look and feel of this film is vaguely similar to Nakata's first instalment but Iida enforces a much more minimalist approach in all departments: the production's key elements, including the effective direction and cinematography, the positioning of the often ethereal soundtrack score, the unrushed but even pacing, the purposefully subdued and introspective acting, etc, all mesh to produce a supremely understated yet suitably atmospheric viewing experience. (....Spoiler begins) This noticeably calm but foreboding atmosphere is still in place at the film's finale, producing a pay-off effect similar to that of films like Rosemary's Baby: a potentially earth-shattering occurrence has just unfolded and those involved are acting like it's the most natural thing in the world. Consequently some viewers find The Spiral's downbeat and bleak final chapter disappointing but it pretty much worked for me. (....spoiler ends).
All of the main characters here are played by the same actors who played them in Ring, which adds a good sense of continuity to the show. The most obvious exception is Sadako but the change of actress would seem to tie in with the fact that Sadako is pursuing a slightly different agenda here and she subsequently emerges from her television screen transportation system as a kind of succubus-like entity. Consequently she's nowhere near as scary but the actions she undertakes to ensure that more and more people feel her fear remain disturbing and unsettling. The content of this film is very different to that of Nakata's Ring 2 but Iida's sequel deserves to be considered as a worthy companion to the Ring series in general.
The print used here is in pretty good shape. There's very little in the way of damage but the picture is soft and the colours appear to be slightly faded (though the look of the colours could conceivably be an intentional part of the film's minimalist approach). A few odd sections display a touch of 'motion blur' but, again, in a couple of these sequences the effect appears to be intentional while other sequences suggest that an intermittently smudgy transfer might be to blame. The disc's sound is generally very good: the film's original Japanese soundtrack is presented along with optional English subtitles. The 'extras' include an informative thirty-five minute interview with Iida. The same interview appears on all three of the discs presented here.
Okay. A Kotatsu heater is a kind of coffee table with a heating element on its underside which is used to warm the user's legs: it's the heating element that turns into the Venus Flytrap-like mouth here. As the heater gets stronger it grows in size, becomes more organic looking and walks around on its hind legs. So it shouldn't be too hard to deduce that this film is, in part, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the wacko Sci-Fi monster movies of the 1950s. While the heater is brought to life quite convincingly its look and movements intentionally bring to mind the monsters from flicks like It Conquered The World and when the heater interrupts the rock band's showcase performance, Iida successfully recreates the scenes of mass teen panic associated with features like the original The Blob.
But there is so much more going on here. The film is essentially a frenetic and well-executed farce with a Horror/Sci-Fi theme and Iida has put every resource he had at his disposal into making this a memorable debut theatrical feature. Iida plays a quite original trick on those viewers who are too quick to point out obvious-looking miniature models during the opening sequence where Hama rolls his van and the film is bookended by two post-modern visual gags involving the title and end credits, that appear to be inspired by Terry Gilliam's Monty Python animations. The creativity, enthusiasm, attention to detail, pacing, slick editing and overall eccentricity on display here really do beg comparison to noted fan-favourites like Crime Wave, Raising Arizona, Dead Alive, Delicatessen and Zipang. But be warned: while the film is not really gory some of the humour and imagery employed is very dark and, at times, very disturbing.
Most of the farcical elements work pretty well, and they're enhanced for the most part by the quality of the acting on display and the well constructed musical pastiches found on the soundtrack. Some of the comedic cues are really expressive, as are some of the more melodramatic pieces. Every monster movie needs a hero and that duty initially falls to the electrical expert, Hama, who shows up in some home-made Transformers-esque armour to do battle with the giant heater. There's a love story of sorts bubbling away beneath the surface too: Furuchi needs to make his true feelings known to his girlfriend before the guys from the rock group step in and cramp his style but his awkward manner makes things difficult for him. However, when the chips are down, and panic and chaos descend upon his lodging house, he comes through with flying colours....almost! All in all, this is a pretty impressive little film.
Battle Heater is presented flat but the picture remains quite sharp and the colours are strong: there are some noticeably good colour schemes employed within the film's art direction and these all come through loud and clear. The odd fleck pops up from time to time but these are hardly noticeable. The sound is also quite excellent. This disc features the film's original Japanese soundtrack supported by optional English subtitles.
This film is a highly effective mix of plain-clothes cop show-style action and Sci-Fi/Horror suspense. Parts of it play like Michael Mann directing an episode of The X-Files for an over eighteen audience. Iida's cameramen are continually on the move, effectively telegraphing the urgency of the investigation, but their framing and compositional work remains good. Interesting colouring and lighting gives the Japanese big city locations a look of their own and the street scenes really come to life after dark. Cop show fans will enjoy all of the running around town these guys do and the rooftop scrambles, inter-force brawls, etc, that they get involved in.
The two main cops are pretty interesting characters. Tobitaka is getting on in years and is decidedly old-school. He's completely dedicated to the job and fairly un-PC, balking at ideas like trusting reformed ex-cons, etc. He sticks close to and watches out for another great character, Dr Akagi (Akira Emoto), an elderly pathologist who is due to retire after this case. The younger cop, Manabu, is on a guilt trip because he didn't join the force for what he perceives to be the right vocational reasons and he's also sleeping with an ex-con, Asako, who he doesn't love. Asako is a well observed little character who is superbly brought to life by the distinctive looking but attractive Miwako Ichikawa: (....Spoiler begins) she's initially presented in such a way that her character and intentions appear questionable but her heart and spirit turn out to be pure enough to prove Tobitaka's brash presumptions wrong (...spoiler ends).
There's nothing particularly new or original about the film's Sci-Fi/Horror elements. Several films have featured similar body-flitting forces of evil but Iida expertly works up some really effective 'are they possessed?/aren't they possessed?' suspense. Early signs of possession are watery eyes and headaches - which leads to one or two red herrings and misunderstandings - but the signs that the host body is beginning to weaken or reject its possessor are impossible to miss or mistake. There are a fair few deeply unpleasant and disturbing scenarios present here, along with some attendant gore, but Iida tends to keep the shots of the more graphic moments pretty short. This is quite a long film but the rough and tumble, roller-coaster ride of action and suspense that its thoroughly engaging characters are propelled along holds the viewer's attention throughout.
No complaints about this presentation: the picture is colourful and, for the most part, quite sharp. Night time and 'in the dark' scenes play very well thanks to Akira Ono's well executed lighting. The disc's sound is also excellent and it features, as ever, the film's original Japanese soundtrack with optional English subtitles.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Spiral rates:
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Battle Heater rates:
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Another Heaven rates: