Friday 17 August 2007

Pray (2005) Yuichi Sato

I'm a big fan of Japanese film, from chambara to daikaiju to anime: swordplay movies, giant monster movies and animated film. I've especially enjoyed a lot of the strange and extreme films that Japan tends to produce, from Audition and Ichi the Killer to Battle Royale and The Story of Ricky to the Tetsuo and Guinea Pig films. Lately the trend has been towards modern horror and it, along with the late silent films that lasted well into the thirties in Japan, is where I'm most in need of catching up. I now have the opportunity with Ringu and Tomei box sets and films like the original version of Ju-On, remade in the west as The Grudge sitting in one of my DVD drommes ready to go. Now I realise that the Sundance Channel is showing a huge amount of them, I have even more opportunity to catch up.

This one is a Yuichi Sato film which doesn't help too much as one of only two that he's made, the other being something called Simsons. He's made a few TV series, but that's about it. The writer is Tomoko Ogawa, who hasn't many films behind her either: one as an actress, two as an assistant director and eight as a writer. even The lead actors have more credits to their name but still not too many. Mitsuru and Maki are played by Tetsuji Tamayama and Asami Mizukawa, and between them I've only heard of one film in their careers: Dark Water in which Mizukawa played a sixteen year old girl. I don't know if all this means that I merely picked a bad start to my J-horror blitz or that the genre is so powerful right now in Japan that everyone's jumping on the bandwagon. Maybe both.

Mitsuru and Maki need 50 million yen to pay a drug debt, so they kidnap a young girl called Ai Shinohara, sedate her and hide out at the abandoned Fukayama Elementary School, which Mitsuru went to in years gone by. About five minutes in we discover the catch. When they ring her parents to demand a ransom, they're told that their daughter has been dead for a full year to the day. Soon we realise that she's technically only missing but her mother does firmly believe that she's dead.

Something is obviously very wrong and the first ten minutes or so of bad acting gives way to a very creepy little film, simply but very effectively shot and with an intriguing little soundtrack. The little girl disappears and reappears, Mitsuru has flashbacks and three of his friends turn up to mix it up even more. There are a lot of surprises, the story being highly unpredictable but still very solid. The only bit I don't get is the very last line of the film. It's not great but creepy and unpredictable are great adjectives in my book.

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