If there was a simple, one-sheet, check list for defining a Japanese horror movie, Shikoku would have a tick on every box. By the numbers this film reads as a predictable, cookie-cutter, genre offering, but it lacks one ingredient: The actual horror.
Shikoku is the name of the smallest, and least populated, of the main land bodies which Japan is made up of. The name Shikoku has two possible meanings, depending on how it is written, It can mean “four islands” or “land of the dead” which should be a warning sign right there.
The events of the movie, which shares the island’s name, take place almost entirely in the small, insular village where the film’s heroine, Hinako (Yui Natsukawa), spent the early years of her life. As an adult she returns to the village on family business and hopes to re-establish a connection with her childhood friends, Fumiya (Michitaka Tsutsui) and Sayori (Chiaki Kuriyama). Hinako soon learns that Sayori, the little girl she spent much of her time following around as a child, died tragically many years earlier.
Hinako reconnects with Fumiya, and their friendship is rekindled, but strange events in the village are blamed on Hinako’s return and she learns that her time away has meant that she’s now seen outsider. The villagers blame her for the sudden appearances of the ghosts from the village’s past, but Hinako knows that Sayori’s family has a secret which may explain these apparitions. With Fumiya’s help, she begins an investigation and discovers that Shikoku is in danger of becoming George A.Romero’s favourite holiday destination!
This film walks a fine line between being a brilliant horror and an adequate drama, or perhaps a better description is that the movie feels like an adult, brother’s grimm type fairy-tale. While there are one or two moments that will cause you to jump, for the most part you’ll spend the majority of your time watching this film intrigued.
My personal grudge (no pun intended) with most Japanese horror movies (although this isn’t a problem exclusive to *J-horror) is that they are ultimately nonsense. While I’m more than happy to suspend disbelief and accept that there’s a ghost, or a zombie, or a really pissed off house, a movie has to, at very least, attempt to thread some kind of logic and believability throughout the story. Or else how is the viewer suppose to remain involved? I mean, ok, I’ll buy that a video tape is haunted… just give me some plausible connection between it and the reason that it’s haunted! I’ll happily go along with the zombie apocalypse too, just please go to the trouble of kicking over a drum of radioactive waste or releasing a virus first. I’m not saying that everything has to be meticulously explained, but for me horror works its best when I don’t have to make too many leaps of logic or make too many tenuous connections for the plot have some form of cohesion.
Thankfully Shikoku spends a large portion of its plot allowing the viewer into the world of mysticism in which the story takes place, and while doing so unravels much of the potential horror from the movie, it feels much more like a complete story than other films from this genre.
The DVD comes with a few extras: Interviews with Yui Natsukawa, Chiaki Kuriyama and director Shunichi Nagasaki, a behind the scenes short (which mostly consists of ‘fly on the wall’ footage) and, of course, English subtitles.
If you’re after for a terrifying horror experience then Shikoku isn’t the movie you’re looking for. But if you’re interested in a reasonably well constructed adult fairy-tale that’s beautifully shot (albeit a little too shaky at times), then Shikoku may just fit the bill. [source] [buy]
*Seriously, “J-Horror” is the best name that people can come up with? What about Japence, or Nipporror, or Horriental. Ok, these examples suck, but surely someone can come up with something that rolls off the tongue a little better than J-Horror… you know, like Sporror does!