Sunday, June 5, 2011

REVIEW: Love Ghost

死びとの恋わずらい (Shibito no koiwazurai)

Released: 2001

Kazuyuki Shibuya

Ryuhei Matsuda
Kumiko Akiyoshi
Mao Asami
Risa Goto
Shuntaro Hani

Running time: 95 min.

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

"Lovesick Dead" is not Junji Ito’s most famous work. It’s never been properly translated into English, although if you look hard enough you can find it online. That being said, it’s still quintessential Ito, similar in scope to "Uzumaki". Both take place in small, rural towns that descend into obsession and madness. Higuchinsky was successful in his adaptation of Uzumaki, finishing the film before the manga series had even been completed. He was able to tap into Ito’s playful visual style and his killer sense of the beautiful and the twisted, the sweet and the sour. First time (and what appears to be only time) director Kazuyuki Shibuya tries his hand at "Lovesick Dead" with the terribly re-titled "Love Ghost". Its claim to fame, besides being a Junji Ito adaptation, is that its one of Ryuhei Matsuda’s early works. So Matsuda fans get ready to rejoice!

Midori (Risa Goto) returns to the small town she grew up in with her mother, having left 10 years earlier after Midori’s father, a lab assistant, left them for another woman. Upon her first day at her new high school, Midori meets Ryuhei (played by Ryuhei Matsuda), a friend from her childhood. She also encounters a shrine on the path to school that gives her an uneasy feeling. You see Midori has been experiencing the same dream for an unspecified amount of time that features a very similar shrine and pools of blood. Soon, she becomes entangled in a love triangle between class hunk Tejima, and her new friends Suzue (Asumi Miwa from Uzumaki) and Tamayo (Yuki Inomata from Gemini). Soon love obsessions run high as a power struggle for Tejima’s love builds. Meanwhile, Midori’s mother becomes obsessed with cleaning mold from the bathroom walls, and Midori’s dreams start becoming reality. The shrine is a popular site for tsuji-ura, street corner fortune telling, in which one can ask a stranger what their future will be. The girls in the class soon become enamored with fortune telling and the Handsome Boy of the shine, a dark spirit enveloped in mist that will tell your future, but which almost always turns out to be morbid and vile.

Director Kazuyuki Shibuya does a good job capturing Ito’s spirit. Despite the very limited budget the film was made with, the visuals are at times quite captivating, and the madness that takes hold of the students starts quite strong. It even balance’s out the sweet and sour thematic style that Ito is so good at, giving us something so cute and adorable and at its core heartfelt, that quickly descends into something dark, terrible and usually grotesque. Unfortunately, Kazuyuki does a terrible job of channeling Ito’s spirit once he’s captured it. Part is due to the limited budget. The special effects are quite terrible, and in fact sometimes down right laughable. Most of the awful CG comes into play when people try their hand at fortune telling and the shrine, which is unfortunate, because that is the core of the film. The level of the grotesque that should be pulsing off the screen is rather muted and dull. There are quite a few throat slashings, which spew forth arterial sprays galore, but they’re all unfortunately quite tame. And of course, lets not forget that instead of building to the mad climax that is featured in the manga, the film instead descends into a rather lame final 20 minutes which would make only M Night Shyalaman proud. It seems very out of place and is incredibly disappointing. In fact, the film is very disappointing, because at times it has so much going for it, which it quickly sabotages with bad CG and a sloppy ending. Junji Ito would not be proud.

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.

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