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Masters of Horror: Dream Cruise
Norio Tsuruta isn't as well known as some of the other Japanese horror directors like Hideo Nakata but he's got a few popular titles to his credit, namely Ring 0 and Kakashi. His entry in the second season of Masters Of Horror episodes isn't the best that the series has to offer but it's a strong effort that will certainly appeal to fans of modern Japanese horror.
Daniel Gillies (of Spider-Man 2 and Captivity) plays Jack, an American lawyer working in Japan. When Jack was younger he and his brother were on a boat and when that boat capsized, Jack's attempts to save his brother from drowning didn't turn out so well. As such, Jack, now an adult, is petrified of boats and of the water. Still dealing with his brother's death years later, Jack winds up having a torrid affair with the wife of one of his biggest clients. Her husband, Eiji Saito (Ryo Ishibashi of Ju-On and Audition) invites Jack along on a cruise with he and his wife, and obviously, Jack is a little unnerved by this. Does the client know that Jack is sleeping with his wife? Will Jack be able to cope with being on a boat? There's something not quite right about this, and Jack will soon figure out the truth by learning the hard way that the past always comes back to haunt you.
Dream Cruise takes quite a bit of time to get to the good stuff. While sometimes the slow burn works, here it feels more like padding as the character development only comes in bits and pieces and as such the narrative structure of the first two thirds is, well, dull. That said, once we get on the boat and things start moving along, the film really picks up and the last third of the picture turns out to be a shockingly gory and fairly intense little morality play by way of a horror film. Some of the clichés that have come to be associated with the current crop of Japanese horror pop up - eerie, despotic looking longhaired ghosts for example - but Norio Tsuruta makes the pay off completely worthwhile even if we can make a reasonably educated guess as to where it's all going by the half way point.
Performance wise, Gillies does a decent job as the tortured philandering lawyer but the Japanese cast, who deliver their lines in English, don't fair so well. While you can't fault the Japanese cast members for not performing as well when not speaking in their native tongue, you do have to wonder why they weren't allowed to speak Japanese instead (the same problem hurt Takashi Miike's Imprint from the first season). That said, while the performances aren't going to 'wow' anyone, the visuals might. The reliance of green colored lighting to relay the ghostly manifestations are very effective and help to carry the eerie mood of the picture some, and the camerawork is slick and professional looking. The scenes on the boat have a nice, thick atmosphere to them and the gore effects and make up are appropriately nasty.
Dream Cruise is, like every episode in the series so far, presented in an anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen transfer. Overall this is a strong transfer as color reproduction is good, and detail levels are strong. Black levels are strong which is definitely an asset as much of the film is quite dark. A little bit of edge enhancement and some aliasing is present, but thankfully it's minor and doesn't detract much from the picture.
Audio options are available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound or in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, both in the movie's native English language. If at all possible, watch this feature with the 5.1 mix enabled as it does a good job of bringing the entire production to life by throwing the sounds that make up this very aggressive mix around the room. Surrounds are used very effectively to bring a few of the key scenes in the film to life and it's nice to see that some care and consideration was put into the mix on this disc.
First up is an audio commentary track courtesy of star Daniel Gillies and producer Mick Garris. The two participants are quite lively here, explaining what it was like working with a Japanese director and how cultural differences lead to an interesting shoot which is in turn represented by an interesting final product.
Even more interesting is the half hour making of featurette which does a really interesting job of contrasting American and Japanese horror films and explaining why each culture tends to go for a different tone in their cinema. Along the way we see how some of the effects used in Dream Cruise were created and we're given a chance to explore the sets and see the cast and crew in action. This has got to be one of the more interesting documentaries included on the Masters Of Horror releases thus far in the series' life on DVD.
Rounding out the extra features is a still gallery of behind the scenes photographs, trailers for other episodes of Masters Of Horror, the movie's script in PDF format for those who happen to be DVD-Rom equipped, animated menus and chapter stops. As usual, there's an insert inside the case which features the cover art on one side and the chapter listing on the other, and the keepcase fits inside a slick cardboard slipcase that features identical cover art.
A slow burning and freakishly gory little ghost story, Dream Cruise will definitely appeal to established fans of modern Japanese horror but isn't quite strong enough to convince those who don't have a taste for it. That said, the scares are good as are the production values even if some of the performances are awkward and the pacing isn't so hot. Anchor Bay have done their typically solid job on the release and even if the extras are lighter here than on past releases, this disc comes recommended.
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.