Friday, March 19, 2010

REVIEW: Orochi: Blood

おろち (Orochi)

Released: 2008

Norio Tsuruta

Yoshino Kimura
Mitsuki Tanimura
Noriko Nakagoshi

Taro Yamamoto
Kyusaku Shimada

Running time: 147 min.

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

On the surface, "Orochi: Blood" has all the makes of a classic horror film. Norio Tsutura, who was one of the forerunners of the J-horror boom, basically developing the cinematic style that is associated with the genre, directs it. It’s based on the brooding gothic masterpiece "Orochi" by legendary manga god Kazuo Umezu. And it’s written by Hiroshi Takahashi, who wrote all things "Ringu", as well as Hideo Nakata’s "Don’t Look Up" aka "Ghost Actress" and Takashi Miike’s "Crows Zero 2". The iron triangle of ultimate Japanese horror film power is formed, and it should surely spawn something spectacular and unique. Shouldn’t it?

Orochi (Mitsuki Tanimura), the namesake of the film, is a spirit of sorts. She reawakens every one hundred years, and spends her time on earth watching as us mere mortals struggle with the morality of what it means to be human. She watches, but very rarely interferes. She decides to spend her time watching the Monzen household, a mammoth gothic home run by Aoi Monzen (Yoshino Kimura), a huge film star with more than enough clout to dictate anything and everything. Her word is final is always final. She spends her time making hugely popular films, and raising her two daughters, Lisa and Kazusa. Of course this being a gothic tale, their upbringing is far from perfect. Aoi can be loving and caring, but if things don’t meet her standards of perfection, she attacks with a poison fist, and her tongue lashes out with brutality. Orochi watches, drawn to the tragedy that unfolds at the Monzen household, and the curse that plagues all women of the Monzen family. When Aoi gets drunk and crashes her car, Orochi manages to save her, but in doing so, injures herself. Her body weakens, and she slips out of consciousness. We jump ahead 20 years. Now Orochi resides in the body of Yoshiko (also played by Mitsuki Tanimura), an orphan raised by a husband and wife musical duo. She’s soon bought by a mysterious woman, and whisked off to the Monzen household to become a maid. By now the girls are older. Kazusa (now played by Yoshino Mimura) has followed in her mother’s footsteps and become a film starlet. Lisa (Noriko Nakagoshi) has become essentially Kazusa’s assistant. But it’s only a matter of time before the curse of the Monzen women comes for Kazusa and/or Lisa next.

"Orochi" is not the film it should have been. Which isn’t to say its bad, but it seems like there were either too many cooks in the kitchen, or they weren’t exactly sure what kind of film they were making. They took basic elements of the manga, expanded on some ideas, cut out others, and tried to piece it all together. It’s obvious that Tsuruta wanted to separate this film from everything associated with the J-horror boom. Visually the film is exquisite, and Tsuruta plays around with elliptical editing, Mizoguchi-style long takes with blocking boiled down to perfection and numerous other cinematic and editing techniques to make this film a unique experience. On that end the film succeeds. Which is why I am still unsure if I actually liked the film, because from a structuralist point of view, the film is flawless. From a narrative point of view though, it’s really not that great. Which is sad, because Umezu’s manga is great. Not his best work, but it still leaves you in a dark place. This film does not. They retain the narrative point of view of Orochi, but they physicalize the Monzen curse that was cursory in the manga. Instead of making a dark tale about jealous as the true curse of the Monzen household, they make it superficial, and the end really looses any of the punch it should have. The jealousy theme isn’t really even developed or explored until the last part of the film, but its something that runs rampant through the manga. Part of it is due to the fact that film only follows the sisters up until they are in their late twenties, where as the manga follows them until much later in life. The deep exploration found within the manga is now a short jaunt through their lives, and really isn’t worth the trip.

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.

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