Noroi (The Curse) (2005)
June 25, 2014 3:30 PM - Subscribe

A documentary filmmaker explores seemingly unrelated paranormal incidents connected by the legend of an ancient demon called the "kagutaba."
posted by mathowie (52 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
my quick take is that this was a pretty creepy, but not really scary, j-horror movie. A lot of it seemed a bit by-the-numbers. The formerly-Kana ghost/monster was really really well done and freaked me out pretty good in the scene at the shrine in the wooded hills.

The TV clips were pretty bang-on too. I'm pretty sure the guys that accompanied the actress to the haunted temple for that sequence are actual comedians that do the rounds on Japanese variety shows. They looked very familiar to me.

The haunted temple TV segment also hit home for me because I may have done something similar myself, poking around a supposedly haunted temple in the middle of the night with a couple of friends who found out I was into ghost movies and decided to take me to various "haunted" places. We even drove through a tunnel in Zushi like the one they described in one of the montages at the beginning, where there's supposedly ghosts of hanged people visible sometimes. Anyways, so shortly after the temple thing, one of my students who was a weird old man told me I was "followed by angry ghosts" or "spirits" or something which, uh, yeah, wish he hadn't said that because wtf.
posted by Hoopo at 3:45 PM on June 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I forecast 100% agreement on which image from the film has the most potential for everlasting nightmare fuel: the night vision shot of Kana and the fetuses. HOLY CRAWLING BACKWARDS OVER THE COUCH AND UP THE WALLS IN TERROR Y'ALL.

I'll have more thoughts later but wow... Holy shit... That scene.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:46 PM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I watched this this weekend, and it's certainly not the most typical found footage film, it's best described as a mix between found footage and typical J-horror.

I will admit it has some creepy parts, especially in the last 20 minutes. But it's about twice as long as it needs to be, and really fucking dumb. First of all, I don't know if it could be described as complex, especially since, even though it has a large-ish cast, every time someone pops up who you haven't seen in the last ten minutes, there's a tedious flashback to remind us who they are.

And if there's something to be figured out or put together, you can bet the voiceover guy comes in and explains it two seconds after you've figured it out yourself, like the bit with the scroll and the baby monkeys.

Not to mention the many unlikely convenient coincidences or just dumb things, like Japanese town halls apparently being totally unfazed by someone calling and asking about demon rituals at a nearby town, or the main character "deciding to adopt the boy" and having the kid living with him and his wife less than a month later.

There's also a bunch of tedious and repetitive dialogue, like when bug-eyed crazy guy (who's a ridiculous character in general) flips out for the fifteenth time and points and repeatedly shouts "That way", and then, two seconds later, the main character asks his cameraman "did he say that way?", or the historian who says "this was a demon they called Kagutaba" or something similar, and the main character asks "So Kagutaba could be the name of a demon?" I don't know if this is something that translates badly from Japanese, because I've noticed similar redundancies in the dialogue of other Japanese movies, but it certainly gets tedious.

Also, as is sadly often the case in found footage movies, the found footage format adds nothing to the story, and rather just requires more illogical and dumb behaviour from the characters, like at the end, where Kobayashi holds on to a video camera while bug-eyed manic dude first attacks his family (not even dropping the camera when he's physically struggling with him to get him off of his wife, or negotiating with him to let his adopted kid go), but when he finally drops the camera after being hit on the head, he watches his wife set herself on fire, and while he's trying to get to her to help her, and she's setting half the apartment on fire while running around screaming, he stops what he's doing to crawl back and get the camera.

So it's basically either typical found footage stuff, but in a J-horror movie, or typical J-horror stuff, but in a found footage movie.

No, this is way too stupid to work. There are about three sequences that are genuinely scary, the score is pretty good in a John Carpenter sort of way, but all of this would have been better in a shorter, more thought-through film. Say, one that doesn't try to make you scared of pigeons.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:47 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

And yeah, the night vision shot is creepy and works. I also quite liked the transition of the kid at the end from bloody face to Kagutaba mask and back again, which was pretty subtle and simple, but very effective.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:50 PM on June 25, 2014

I enjoyed it, liked the pacing, liked the music, liked the story.

The thing I keep coming back to though is that outside of Monsters Are Scary, I'm not sure I got what it was about. Thematically, I mean. I guess you could say there were points made about how modern entertainment encourages us to make shallow entertainment out of the supernatural. Maybe that was it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:56 PM on June 25, 2014

It's almost a cliché that horror authors assign the origins of curses/obscure diseases/malign forces to some culture they consider sufficiently mysterious and/or exotic (King, Barker, Dahl and Simmons have all done it, and of course Lovecraft is a cornucopia of racism), so I thought it was interesting that the sorcerers trying to summon Kagutaba were from the West.

No, I'm not feeling oppressed by that, just thought it was kind of amusing.

This film didn't really scare me; actually I think I found both Onibaba and The Woman in the Dunes creepier.
posted by johnofjack at 3:56 PM on June 25, 2014

every time someone pops up who you haven't seen in the last ten minutes, there's a tedious flashback to remind us who they are.

And if there's something to be figured out or put together, you can bet the voiceover guy comes in and explains it two seconds after you've figured it out yourself, like the bit with the scroll and the baby monkeys.

Heh. Are you familiar with Japanese TV?

Also, yeah, there are some translation issues with Japanese dialog to English. We actually have some people on this site who have been translators for anime programs that could probably elaborate--my Japanese is not very good but sometimes the subtitles weren't really exactly the same as what was being said.

Also I don't find it that unbelievable that someone at a town hall would be unfazed by a question about a local festival. There are many local festivals in Japan that aren't that well-known outside of the town, some of which are quite old and rooted in pretty local traditions. Also a "demon" festival doesn't seem that outlandish when you consider Setsubun
posted by Hoopo at 3:57 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also quite liked the transition of the kid at the end from bloody face to Kagutaba mask and back again

Is that what happened? I read it as the kid stood up with a caved-in skull, then reconstituted himself because hey: demons do that.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:59 PM on June 25, 2014

I'm pretty sure the guys that accompanied the actress to the haunted temple for that sequence are actual comedians that do the rounds on Japanese variety shows. They looked very familiar to me.

IMDb lists some of the celebrity characters as "him/herself," including Marika. I don't know if that's a Blair Witch thing (naming the character after the actor just for the sake of realism), or if they're well-enough known overseas that it's more like a Ghostwatch thing (real known celebrities participating in a "hoax" ghost hunt). I guess the latter, if you recognized those two guys.

Kobayashi holds on to a video camera while bug-eyed manic dude first attacks his family (not even dropping the camera when he's physically struggling with him to get him off of his wife, or negotiating with him to let his adopted kid go), but when he finally drops the camera after being hit on the head, he watches his wife set herself on fire, and while he's trying to get to her to help her, and she's setting half the apartment on fire while running around screaming, he stops what he's doing to crawl back and get the camera.

Yeah, that may have been the purest "PUT DOWN THE CAMERA, JACKASS" found-footage moment I've ever seen.

the score is pretty good in a John Carpenter sort of way

It was a direct rip-off of Ennio Morricone's score for The Thing. It worked fine here, but I kept picturing snow and parkas.

Is that what happened? I read it as the kid stood up with a caved-in skull, then reconstituted himself because hey: demons do that.

His face definitely became the Kagutaba mask for a brief moment, it was very cool.

(BONUS FUN FACT: My iPhone autocorrects Kagutaba to "Kaftans".)
posted by doctornecessiter at 4:10 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I thought it was interesting that the sorcerers trying to summon Kagutaba were from the West

I didn't pick up on that--did they mean, like the west of Japan, or from the west outside Japan?
posted by Hoopo at 4:11 PM on June 25, 2014

The one part that really creeped me out was when Marika and Kobayashi's wife were really cheerfully preparing to have dinner, then suddenly Marika was groaning and staring at the wall. That was chilling.

One question: Did they explain at the beginning why a paranormal investigator was called in to examine sounds of babies coming from a house where people were known to live? Had the neighbors already looked into the obvious non-supernatural explanation (that is, real live babies in the house)?
posted by doctornecessiter at 4:13 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

DirtyOldTown: "Is that what happened? I read it as the kid stood up with a caved-in skull, then reconstituted himself because hey: demons do that"

I just looked at it again, it could be, but his face right after he stands up looks a lot like the masks, with the big hollow eye openings. It's here if anyone wants to look, and here's the mask for comparison. Or, what the hell, I made a comparison image.

Could be both, I guess, but I think it's at least a visual callback to the mask.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:18 PM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

doctornecessiter: "One question: Did they explain at the beginning why a paranormal investigator was called in to examine sounds of babies coming from a house where people were known to live? Had the neighbors already looked into the obvious non-supernatural explanation (that is, real live babies in the house)?"

With birth rates being what they are in Japan these days, baby sounds are probably assumed to be supernatural until proven otherwise.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:20 PM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is one of those films where you either buy into the scariness aspect of it or you don't, and it really doesn't work very well if you aren't creeped out or concerned for the characters during a lot of scenes where nothing really happens because there are not many big scares. For example, I think one of the best scenes is when they take the boat out to the former location of the shrine in the middle of the day which is not really an inherently scary situation without the buildup that happens beforehand. Also the quick scene where they drive through the town that had previously been filled with barking dogs that is now completely empty really worked for me. I do think that the faux-documentary style and mystery aspect works well in terms of giving the characters something to do while the backstory and tone of the film is being setup though. A lot of J-Horror type films are at least partially about finding out the origin of whatever malevolent force is at work, and a lot of times you just end up getting a big infodump about what's going on, whereas this film had more of a slow unraveling of the mystery in a more satisfying way.
posted by burnmp3s at 4:24 PM on June 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

Hoopo: Maybe it's made clear in the original Japanese, but in the translations IIRC it was just identified as "the West" without making it clear if that was the West inside Japan or outside it. I'd assumed outside, but assumptions aren't worth much.
posted by johnofjack at 4:32 PM on June 25, 2014

I didn't have a plausibility issue with him grabbing the camera at the end while his wife was on fire. First, because documentary filmmakers are insane like that: always wanting to get it on tape. Second, if we imagine for a second that this is a real life situation, then we're talking about a man who is shortly going to have to explain how his wife was killed, how his house caught fire, and possibly who killed this sorta kinda known psychic and possibly who caved his adopted son's head in. Given that his answer is going to be "underwater village demon," having the camera and footage is a rock solid fucking idea.

The part I had a plausibility issue with was Junko Ishii's twenty-ish uneventful years as a nurse. How did crazy, slovenly, yelling demon-addled lady hold down a job that long? And why did her coworkers think that "we always wondered what she did with the fetuses" was an okay thing not to know the answer for?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:35 PM on June 25, 2014 [8 favorites]

While I too thought parts of the story were ridiculous -- okay, wait. Let's just think for a moment about a world where a kid demonstrates telekinesis, teleportation and psychic intuition on national television. That this could be a hoax is never even considered! I mean, Kana is ready to join the X-Men and this is just sort of a weird detail in a low budget reality show. I'm not even going to get into how Kana should really have been able to escape her kidnappers, since she's literally Carrie. Whatevs; you don't watch something like this because it's documentary reali--well, I mean, you kind of do watch something like this because it's documentary realism, but...

Anyway, though, I think it's a very effective film that sets a great mood and basically is creepy as fuck when it needs to be. Are there big logic problems? Um, yes. Does it matter? Probably not that much.

The big question I walked away with was: Is this a story that benefits from the found footage treatment? A glance at the director's filmography implies he just really likes this subgenre of horror, and I wonder if it's just an aesthetic preference or something that in this instance brings something to the film that a more conventional treatment would not have. One thing I thought found footage did bring to the table was an indifferent eye on horrific events; stuff like the nightvision ghost fetus/snakes and the little boy with his smashed face/demon's face are just shown to us without shock cuts or bursts of music or close-ups...and without flinching. That shot of the ghost in the woods just goes on, and I bet a lot of audiences included people who closed their eyes and were horrified to open them again and see that awful thing still there. On the other hand, I can see how a more traditional film might have opened the story up a lot, too.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:40 PM on June 25, 2014

(Another thing occurred to me right now, thinking about that scene: The ghost seems to be coming closer to the camera -- which is to say, closer to us -- but because the camera isn't moving, neither are we. It's like a nightmare where the monster is approaching but for some reason you're paralyzed.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:49 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

in the translations IIRC it was just identified as "the West"

Well I just found this, so maybe China?
posted by Hoopo at 4:50 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, as Hoopo says, many of the B- or C-list celebrities in this movie actually are the B- or C-list celebrities playing themselves. This includes Marika! This really illustrates the talent agencies' relentless push to push to get their people into anything at all -- talk shows, game shows, this horror movie, whatever -- that it's not hard to imagine them shoving poor Marika into ghost hunting with the Un-Girls.

I think Shiraishi was clever to do it, and this movie is a real high-water mark for him. It's a serious step up from Ju-Rei (The Uncanny) which was a by-the-numbers Ju-on (The Grudge) contagious curse clone, albeit with a couple of nice variations. It's amazingly like the director himself doesn't know what made this good. He's fallen precipitously by the time he gets aroud to making Occult (trailer) where he's using found footage again. He tries really, really hard to milk some of it (found footage, the weird neighbor, actresses pushed into it by their agency) again with Cult, (trailer) but, despite one or two good ideas, and actresses that try their damnedest, I think Cult falls very flat.

Even in Noroi, a lot of the elements that make up the movie are retreads. The boy in the window could be Toshio from Ju-on. The psychic Kana recalls a young Sadako. The talk show appearance a reminder of One Missed Call. The whole idea of "village with patron demon and dam coming" reminds me of Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni.

So how come I think Noroi stands out from most of the pack? One thing is the way that Kobayashi is nicely underplayed. He's a dogged mediocrity. Overweight, middle-aged, maybe been doing his paranormal show for years. He's not doing glamorous ghost hunting. He's trudging around the city on foot. Never going to be famous. Something weird in your neighborhood, and who you gonna call? Not Kobayashi. But he's a decent guy - when he runs across people who seem to be in trouble, he tries to help. And he's not defeated by where he is: when he finds something genuinely weird, he just keeps chipping away at it.

And I love that chipping away process. Any single one of the odd things he runs across he could shrug off and walk away from. It's not a Ju-on curse where the least brush against it may doom you. Kobayashi doesn't have to pursue it. He could shrug off what he sees. Funny noises here, a car wreck there, a missing child, and a flighty actress. It's only in putting these things together that a pattern emerges. At times, watching this movie is like standing in front of some detective's corkboard running lines of string between one photo and another. Molly's board from Fargo maybe. The fact that this doesn't scream "supernatural evil!" to the world aids in the suspension of disbelief.

As does the way the supernatural is manifested. Junko, for example. None of her neighbors (at least in the city) would have thought there was anything supernatural there. If she moved in next door to me, my thought would be that meth was a hell of a drug. Kana's disappearance would be put down to some child predator. The episodes of demon possession would have me calling, not for a priest, but for an ambulance for someone having a seizure. Hori and his talk of ectoplasmic worms would make me complain about the mental health system, not worry about a curse. I think this is one of the best things about the movie -- it suggests that the some pieces of supernatural horror may be sitting there in plain sight, and then procedes to show us just how.
posted by tyllwin at 5:04 PM on June 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

Japanese speaker here, and yes, there were some translation issues. I'm sure everyone noticed the subtitles at times said "embryos" when "fetuses" would have made so much more sense. The translators chose the word "ritual" (gishiki 儀式) to describe the Kagutaba ceremony the people of Shimokage Village last performed in 1978, and, although that's also a technically correct translation, I found it a bit misleading given that the dialogue itself actually used the word that most directly translates into "festival" (matsuri 祭り).

It makes more sense to know the people of Shimokage Village had some agency here - they were, in a very real sense, celebrating Kagutaba with a village festival, but that's a minor nitpick I suppose. Understanding the "ritual" vs "festival" difference might also help put Kobayashi's call to the town hall people into perspective - sure, they are happy to put him in touch with a local cultural historian willing to talk about that old festival. A "secret demon ritual" it simply was not, and that translation left out some important nuance IMHO.
posted by hush at 5:56 PM on June 25, 2014 [8 favorites]

I really enjoyed it, but I had a few issues.

First, I don't get Junko's motivation. Has she been possessed by Kagutaba the whole time? It's a malevolent spirit buried under a lake and not coming back- why resurrect it?

Second, is "rural town propitiating a demon" a trope in Japanese horror? That aspect reminded me very strongly of the PS2 game Siren, which had the same thing going on.

Third, I don't really understand what Kobayashi was doing at the first house in the beginning. Baby noises? In a small house that's in close proximity to others?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:59 PM on June 25, 2014

My impression was she got possessed way back at the ceremony in the old film, where she had the seizure, and had been working for kagutaba ever since, but I could be wrong

I hadn't noticed the thing about why kobayashi was at the house to begin with; now that it's been pointed out, yeah it seems like a bit of a plot hole.
posted by Hoopo at 8:20 PM on June 25, 2014

That the celebrities in the film were real people playing themselves completely eluded me*, and I have to wonder how this would change Noroi for Japanese audiences. I don't know that I would have found an American version with western celebrities playing themselves less scary, necessarily -- there's something kind of Lynchian about it -- but I'm sure it would give me a different feeling than the one I had watching Noroi; less horror, more metafiction. (*It does explain why Marika survived relatively unscathed, though, which I found kind of a relief but also seemed a bit like a narrative oversight.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:37 PM on June 25, 2014

Yeah, whoever was comparing it to Ghostwatch had the right of it, I think.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:05 PM on June 25, 2014

I'm not sure I got what it was about. Thematically, I mean.

One of the main themes is that a lack of cooperation between people is often what leads to death, maybe even more often than the supernatural force itself can directly cause death. (This is also a common theme of Western zombie fare.) It's also about Rural/Tradition/Magical Thinking vs Urban/Modern Tech/Experts.

Chronologically anyway, the story starts with the dam being built over Shimokage Village, and the villagers totally objected to it, they protested (which is a much bigger deal in Japan than in the West.) They were ignored. Their silly traditions were scoffed at. The community moved on - but kept the dogs, kept the sickles over their front doors, waiting - then when Junko came back to town they knew. The members of the Shimokage subculture circled the proverbial wagons and knew exactly what to do when The Kagutaba's power got out of balance again as it always eventually does (hence the sacrificed dogs Hori and Kobayashi found in the woods around the real old shrine site). One of the Shimokage women even warned Kobayashi when he came looking, and he ignored her advice.

I lost count of how many times in the film Kobayashi knocked on somebody's neighbor's door, and we saw again and again how people so clearly did not know the people living right next to them. Time and again they had odd suspicions about something the neighbor was doing - they heard sounds that concerned them, and their response was either to ignore it -- like Junko's and Osawa's male neighbor who heard babies crying, or to talk to an Expert -- like the woman at the beginning who contacted Paranormal Expert Kobayashi, who then consulted how many other Various Experts?

The one exception to this was Marika (IIRC she was the Final Girl; she and possibly the Cameraman survived?) - she was the one who went with Kobayashi to knock on her neighbor Midori's door, and actually knew Midori because they worked together, not because they lived in the same building, of course. I think the film was saying that neighbors in present-day urban Japan don't know each other anymore like they did back in the old timey villages, and this puts folks at risk collectively. Instead of relating to the people living closest to them, they've got to find a sense of community in places like those ubiquitous TV variety shows that put children (like Kana) and people grappling with obvious health issues (like Hori) on display for the entire country. (I'll note the smashed TV set in Junko's house. Ha!) There's no longer the sense of a larger community in cooperation that can band together to fight off a threat - supernatural or otherwise. All of the Modern Experts' well-intentioned attempts eventually get trumped by the old curse again. Technology cannot protect you from the ancient threat you've ignored.

Another big theme in J-horror that we also see here is the idea that the antagonist is never permanently destroyed - it just changes form. (Like one of the laws of thermodynamics.) It remains at large. It's purposely left ambiguous. Junko Ishii - was she good or evil? Well, maybe both. If you think about it, her icky "solution" to use dead fetuses probably saved other lives for many years. Was she possessed the whole time since 1978? Probably, and she eventually lost control when the nursing school was closed. Junko could not pacify The Kagutaba alone. In Japan, people succeed in groups and they fail alone. Maybe Junko's community should have been there for her - but she went her own way (which is frowned upon in Japan.) It is unclear because it is more frightening that way.

It's a malevolent spirit buried under a lake and not coming back- why resurrect it?

A Japanese viewer would have a pretty big clue that everything was about to go wrong once they saw all that water. Marika, Kobayashi, and Hori got to the dam, and M and K rowed out to the middle of the reservoir. Nooo!!! In Japan, water is very closely associated with spirits - so much so that of course The Kagutaba was going to choose that moment to bust out.

The scariest part for me: the nighttime footage of Marika's apartment while she's sleepwalking. I was sure she was going to jump from the balcony, and that honestly was terrifying. But no, she went and tied a bunch of creepy-ass knots! I had no idea loopy-looking knots could be so spooky.
posted by hush at 9:47 PM on June 25, 2014 [13 favorites]

I thought Junko's forest of loopy knots might be to trap evil spirits or something. Boy, was that wrong.

(IIRC she was the Final Girl; she and possibly the Cameraman survived?)

I think Kobayashi would've been fine if he hadn't adopted the little boy.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:23 PM on June 25, 2014

Apparently, the supernatural and the paranormal are just sort of Things in the world this flick inhabits. Like the population just sorta accepts it. These are Things. They're real. End of story. It was kinda difficult for me to get over that point, to be honest. Just one of those things.

I can't say I liked much the first half of the flick, either. It felt maybe sorta plodding to me? Like maybe it was setting everything up, but it felt like it went on too long. I dunno. Too much the scariness in that first half felt like it depended on some character telling us he or she saw something scary. Like someone saying that she had a weird premonition, or heard voices, or stuff like that. Secondhand scariness.

When the movie hit the second half, though, I really started getting into it. I really liked the last half of the movie. The protagonist was playing paranormal detective, following the story from lead to lead, putting together the pieces trying to figure out both what was going on and how to stop it. Kinda like what tyllwin said, up there. It was ace. I thought so, anyway.

And then he decided to adopt the kid.

I literally said, "No, don't do the thing," to my browser window, because seriously, are you mad? You're just gonna adopt the kid? Even ignoring the horror movie context of the action, it was just sorta baffling to me. How long did you take to make that decision, Protagonist? You don't think maybe that kid should have someone talk to him? Dude isn't exactly a shiny trinket you decide to take home on a whim. He's a kid.

So that's my irrelevant two cents. Maybe someone can clear some of that stuff up, but I dunno.
posted by KChasm at 10:24 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

In a state of insomniac desperation one night, I tried to watch a couple of episodes of one of those TV shows about ghosts or whatnot featuring lots of "spooky" night vision shots of supposedly haunted houses and paranormal investigators like Kobayashi. The most they ever got on camera was a door that maybe moved half an inch, maybe. Certainly no demon apparitions covered in fetuses (or baby monkeys--somehow the thought of baby monkeys was more scary to me!). I did not expect real horror out of that TV show, but lay down Sally that shit was boring. What I wanted but didn't get out of the show that night, I did get out of this movie. It wasn't the most brilliant plot I've ever seen, but I was entertained. It should have featured more scenes with the children, they were the most effectively creepy I thought. And I liked the Kobayashi character quite a lot--I liked his calm demeanor mixed with irritation or excitement, none of that melodramatic low voice stuff you tend to see in the American versions of the paranormal investigator ilk.

Also wondered if the knots and the pigeons and other stuff surrounding Kagutaba were derived from any kind of real thing--is there really a kind of local legend like this?
posted by freejinn at 11:20 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just finished watching. Overall I enjoyed it, definitely worth a watch, though I agree that it felt weak and forced in parts.

I'm normally pretty good at the whole willing-suspension-of-disbelief thing but there were a couple of spots that pulled me out of it. Kobayashi taking the boy home was one of them, have to agree with you there KChasm -- how did that make any sense? Especially if (as I think they mentioned) it became apparent that he wasn't even Junko's kid? I can see why they needed it to close out the story, but when you're doing a found-footage pseudodocumentary film I feel like you need to try a bit harder to bridge those kinds of believability gaps. A couple of the scenes had me scratching my head about Kobayashi and his cameraman, too -- a good example was when Kana and her family were having dinner, before the plates go sliding off the table. We're watching them eat quietly for some reason, and then Kana drops her spoon, and the cameraman zooms in quickly on the spoon and then things go flying. There were no other chairs and not a lot of room at the table, so I guess Kobayashi and camera-guy were just standing against the wall filming them eating dinner in silence? B-roll footage I guess? And then Kana drops her spoon and the camera guy was like OMG THE SPOON, even before anything else happens? I dunno, the whole scene just felt weird and forced in a way that took me out of the moment.

Some of it worked very well. Like tyllwin I appreciated the gradual reveal of connections as Kobayashi investigated; it did feel like the various pieces of the story and the links between them would be very easy to overlook in reality, if not for this guy poking away at it. I had little aha moments right along with Kobayashi, like when he pieced together Junko's presence at the second apartment (next to the pigeon whisperer guy) and her moving back to the village. Those parts were fun. And somehow I didn't even notice the ghostly Kana in the corner during the last scene at first, I guess I was too busy trying to make sense of the changes to the boy's face, but it was a nice shock when I did see her.

So much of the movie doesn't make sense on fridge-logic reflection, though. Why does Kobayashi show up to ask about baby noises next door to begin with? Why does Junko move? Why do the neighbors die? Why do a bunch of folks hang themselves? (How was Marika's upstairs neighbor even connected to all of this?) What was the deal with the creepy macrame everywhere? How was the shrine early in the movie connected to any of the other events, and why would Marika have seen or heard anything there? &c.

I guess I can sort of answer some of these arbitrarily; maybe Junko moves because she's trying to avoid attention, all of the neighbors die because they've been touched by the Kagutaba curse in passing, and it was less that the shrine was haunted and more that Marika herself was haunted, though I'm still not sure why. But how did Marika get associated with the curse to begin with? How did Kana, for that matter? (Maybe Junko needed a psychic to do her ritual thing and saw Kana on TV?) Lot of lingering questions here. I get that J-horror is different from Western horror in that sometimes evil just happens and doesn't always get a thorough explanation, but even given that, a lot of the story felt kind of inexplicable and loosely-strung-together to me.

Still and all, I had fun with it. Thanks to the folks who suggested and seconded this one.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 12:04 AM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, apropos of nothing -- during the scene in the boat, at about 1:29 -- as soon as Marika smiles she starts looking weirdly like Michael Jackson.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 12:09 AM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why does Junko move?

I think Junko moves because she (rightly) fears exposure.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:23 AM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to come right out and say that I didn't like this movie. I thought it was boring and that there was no atmosphere. I couldn't get into the story and didn't think it was scary at all. Because of that, it ranks in at only a 2.4 on the purely objective MULPSEAPH, which makes it just slightly scarier than Paris Hilton's dog. I actually went and read a bunch of reviews afterwards because I thought it was boring, and Mrs. Hero (a mefite in neither word nor deed, but roped into the horror movie club due to proximity to me) left the room about 40 minutes into it, saying she was bored out of her wits. The reviews all seemed to say that the reviewer thought it was super creepy but could understand how other people thought that it was boring...which is a weird thing to say, I think.

Anyway, I thought that the actor playing Kobayashi really nailed the part and that was pretty much the only reason that I managed to finish the entire film. Aside from that, I wasn't enthused. Also, when they thought Kana was the demon it was so obviously a red herring that I couldn't believe they even tried to pull it off.

The main thing that bothered me, though, is that I think the main conceit of found footage is the implication that the things are actually occurring in our particular world. However, there is no way that in our world the video editor would see fucking Slenderman in the woods behind Marika and then just edit it out quietly and not mention it to anyone until Kobayashi came knocking. Or in the variety show where Kana draws exact replicas of all the pictures and then manages to summon water with hair in it and everyone acts like it is no big deal and no one stops the tape to yell 'What the fucking fuck!?' I don't think we can reconcile those things, or even the scene where the dishes fly off the table and the spoon breaks and spins. Kana's parents are just like 'I think you should lie down now' rather than dowsing her in gasoline and throwing her burning body off the balcony (yeah, I know they are her parents, but at some point drastic action has to be taken).

So yeah, I didn't really get into this movie that much, but I am glad I watched it to at least broaden my horizons. What's on for next week?
posted by Literaryhero at 3:44 AM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed Noroi, and yeah it might have been derivative and had plot holes and had characters that act like idiots ... ALL horror films are derivative and have plot holes and idiot characters. That was largely what Cabin In The Woods was playing on last week.

Noroi succeeded for me where a most found footage horror movies fail - the footage was pretty believable as being from some dumb no-budget straight to video documentary. I could get behind the idea of this completely mediocre idiot stumbling into a truly horrifying situation and having no idea how to deal with it.

Up until adopting that kid. Dude. DO NOT adopt the creepy mute kid from the murder cabin.

I think it was a good example of modern low budget horror. You could really see the pain and choices behind every dollar being spent on this movie, and the use of B-D grade Japanese celebrities just made me like it more. It let me excuse reshowing certain shots (crawling fetuses) and appreciate when they restrained themselves (the mask or demon kids face at the end was really creepy).

I probably watched this in the ideal setting - sick in bed, on a tablet with long pauses for naps. Because it is way over long for what it is.

I then got out of bed, used the tablet as a flashlight and tripped over the cat. Resulting in a smashed up unrepairable Nexus 7 and very sad faces. Kagutaba lives.
posted by arha at 5:41 AM on June 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

That the celebrities in the film were real people playing themselves completely eluded me [...] It does explain why Marika survived relatively unscathed, though...

I really want to draw a comparison to another work already referenced in this thread to counter the argument that real celebrities might necessarily have to survive events like these, but [SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER].

(Was that a successful dance-around? We really should all watch the work-I-am-not-naming-in-this-comment for FanFare at some point. Like, say, around Halloween.)
posted by doctornecessiter at 5:58 AM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Who exactly are the Un-Girls?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:02 AM on June 26, 2014

Who exactly are the Un-Girls?

B-list comedians who make the rounds of talk shows (and game shows, maybe). They were the two guys who went along with Marika to investigate the park. No connection between them and the paranormal, they were there only because someone at their talent agency thought it would make a good bit to try and place on the Japanese equivalent of The View, or something.
posted by tyllwin at 7:14 AM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Dude. DO NOT adopt the creepy mute kid from the murder cabin.

Totally - and even though welcoming an orphan into your family home is generally considered an unbelievably kind act in the West, you'll get no arguments here that, in this specific context, it was one batshit cray-cray choice by The Kobayashis.

Our collective unease here about that goes to the Western horror convention of someone having to "open the door" to give the evil permission to attack them, particularly in their own home. (e.g. So don't dabble in the occult, kids! etc.) We saw this idea at play in CitW, with the basement full of evil bric-à-brac. The rule was: "they have to transgress" by picking up an object to unleash the monster. Permission is required.

From the Japanese perspective -- and at the risk of really overgeneralizing here-- the boy's "adoption" (again, probably not the best translation; "fostering" might have been a better word choice though that's not quite right either - perhaps simply "they took the boy in" would've been best) would have made the average Japanese viewer extremely uneasy because there is such a strong taboo around actual adoption. It is just not done. It's baffling, but Japanese children whose parents cannot care for them usually never get adopted - they are almost always raised in orphanages, and there are a lot of cultural reasons for that, primary of which is the idea of "bad blood" and the shame of illegitimacy, and the way that any record of it becomes permanent and will go on to harm a birth mother's future employment prospects. Fortunately, this is all changing, but slowly.
posted by hush at 10:39 AM on June 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Here's some j-horror shorts from a tv show that played a few years back. Production values aren't great, but #2 and #4 stuck with me for years.
posted by Hoopo at 12:05 AM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed Noroi and may need to rewatch sometime in a better viewing environment (not a sunny day while being constantly interrupted). I still found it creepy and OMG that night view shot. Cant't wait to see the next movie choice.
posted by oneear at 12:41 AM on June 27, 2014

You know what? Upon further retrospection, it took some of the scariness away because they told the viewer that Kobayashi went missing after the house fire, which implied that he was fine up until that point. That made me feel a little too comfortable with all the 'scary' scenes, knowing that nothing was going to happen. I think this also was implied when looking at Marika's haunted temple tape, too. I already knew she was ok, so nothing that scary could happen to her. Maybe I am overthinking it, but I am trying to understand why a huge fraideycat like myself felt not the least bit frightened when others were genuinely creeped out.
posted by Literaryhero at 2:15 AM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I mostly enjoyed this, though I wasn't the least bit scared until the last 20 minutes or so. I did think the last act was very well-done, though, and I liked how the narrative jumped from Kobayashi to Marika and back. tyllwin did a great job above at picking out the J-Horror antecedents to Noroi, and I'd say on the Western side of the house you can trace a lot of its DNA back to the Paranormal Activity movies (the edited nighttime footage of the possessed Marika doing weird stuff, sudden ghostly happenings in the kitchen) and of course genre godfather The Blair Witch Project (the shakycam chase through the woods at the end).

Maybe my favorite moment in the movie was when Hori takes off screaming into the woods, Kobayashi goes running after him, and then the camera guy is just like "welp, good luck with that, we're out of here."

hush, I'm interested in the "bad blood" idea you mentioned, since one of the things I definitely thought I was picking up from Noroi was a sort of cultural fear of single mothers which also seems to exist in The Ring and Ju-On (maybe more with respect to the imagery than the plot in the latter).
posted by whir at 10:39 AM on June 27, 2014

I watched Ju-On on Netflix but found it completely incoherent. Some bad things happened, then some bad things happened. Couldn't pick an actual plot out of it, and it seemed to assume I already knew a bunch of stuff.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:29 AM on June 28, 2014

Juon (an antecedent of Noroi in that Juon is one of the "big three" films that kicked off a wave of jhorror movies, the other two being Ringu and Dark Water) is sort of incoherent. Part of that is deliberate: the story is told non-linearly, with sequences out of order in time, and relying on the viewer to pick up on details like "Oh, here's the other side of that phone conversation we saw earlier." Part of it is that even when it's laid out in linear order, there are some things which don't logically follow. Part of it is that the most famous Juon movie was a remake of sorts, or really more a sequel I guess, and so the director skimped on exposition.

The basic story is that a guy named Takeo kills his wife Kayako, and his son Toshio in a jealous rage. He, in turn is killed by their vengeful ghosts, and the house becomes the center of a sort of contagion. The more contact you have with the house the more likely that the ghosts will come for you. The more connected you are with someone who's under the curse, the more likely it is that that you'll be cursed in turn, and so on. The connections can even span time, so for example, there's a detective and his daughter who are both effected by the curse, several years apart, and (for reasons never explained) somehow sense the other's involvement.

All in all, Juon is just inherently less a logical story than Ringu or Dark Water, or Noroi, and is best looked at as visualized nightmare, like David Lynch, maybe.
posted by tyllwin at 10:29 AM on June 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Personally I found it the scariest of the bunch you mentioned. The "incoherence" if you want to call it that makes it scarier; it's just this malevolent force and we don't know why it's there or how to stop it
posted by Hoopo at 6:25 PM on June 29, 2014

Yeah, but I also couldn't answer such questions as "Who's that?" or "What's happening to him?"
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:15 PM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, ha, yeah thats a problem
posted by Hoopo at 9:11 AM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I thought the US remake was just about as incoherent, by the way. Both of them have some supremely spooky visuals and moments, but as a story, yeah, no, they don't work at all.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:28 AM on June 30, 2014

(And I say that as a Lynch fan who will defend both Mulholland Dr. and Lost Highway as perfectly coherent. Although not Inland Empire, I have my limits.)
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:28 AM on June 30, 2014

Is it just because there's so many people that go into the house over the course of the movie? Because it's not much different than any other haunted-house flick IMO; there's the backstory of what went wrong and then the stories of the people that get tormented by the ghosts. It's...kinda not hard to understand for me.
posted by Hoopo at 12:02 PM on June 30, 2014

There's that, and also the story is (if I remember correctly) not told chronologically, so there's added confusion from that. I didn't find it all that hard to follow, just... narratively loose and sloppy.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:35 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

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