Japan's Must-Read Magazine

All-Night Japanese Horror Movie Marathon!

For many foreigners in Japan, spooky staring kids, indecipherable
phone calls and late night encounters with pale, long-haired ladies are
part of everyday life – but on the silver screen, these things are
scaring the bejeezus out of people around the planet. Japanese horror
films have taken the world by storm with their unsettling atmospherics,
and Hollywood has already churned out big-budget remakes of Juon, Ringu
and Dark Water.

So, with Halloween coming up, what better than to
check out the original versions of these movies? Well, you’d think so,
but though you’ll have no trouble finding the DVDs at your local rental
store, none of them come with English subtitles. Bummer. Hope is at
hand, though – lurking on the shelves are a number of suitably spooky
alternatives that do.

Armed only with the knowledge that the
kanji for “English” looks like a little man with a hat, Japanzine
scoured the shelves of our neighborhood video shop and, after much
disappointment and rummaging, eventually managed to find six
frightening-looking, subtitled DVDs. We then went home for an all-night
horror movie marathon. The mission: to sit through a whole night of
scary Japanese movies without crapping our pants.

Kairo (Pulse)
Nope, it’s not set in Egypt, as the title may suggest. A computer geek
tops himself and leaves behind a mysterious disc, leading to all sorts
of macabre and unpleasant goings-on involving an internet ghost.
There’s a current vogue in Japan for stories about innocuous,
commonplace electrical items turning nasty. After the cursed video tape
(Ringu) and haunted mobile phone (One Missed Call), now it’s the
computer’s turn to be an evil bastard, with a supernatural hacker from
hell terrorizing a bunch of university students via their PCs.
Evidently, Japan’s love of technology is in decline. I’m looking
forward to the inevitable movies about a possessed Dance Dance
Revolution machine, an evil vending machine or a haunted Print Club
As you might have guessed, Kairo is pretty derivative, but it’s a lot
more upmarket than the cheap Ringu rip-off we’d expected, with good
music and camerawork, and some genuine frights. It’s pant-wettingly
scary in parts, and features the familiar long-haired ghost-woman we’ve
come to expect in these kinds of films, moving around like a
performance-art student on downers.

Wild Zero
Whoa! This is a change of pace: a super-charged and unbelievably
demented rock’n’roll zombie flick. If you’re underwhelmed by the subtle
moodiness of recent Japanese horror hits and keen to see some juicy
blood and guts, you’ll get a kick out of this one. When small-town
Japan is invaded by rampaging, flesh-eating humanoids, the rockabilly
punk group Guitar Wolf comes to the rescue of their number one fan and
save the day – through the power of rock. Deadly metal guitar picks are
thrown like ninja stars, and a samurai sword is concealed in the neck
of the singer’s guitar. Cue lots of explosions, nudity, messy gore and
noisy music. Throw in some UFOs and a transsexual damsel in distress,
and you’ve got a bona-fide cult-classic in waiting. Highlights include
a naked girl fending off zombies with a big gun – which is surely about
as brilliant as it gets. This is tons of fun if you’ve got a strong
stomach, and cast-iron eardrums. Like a garage-rock version of the Evil

Blood – The Last Vampire
Here’s one for animation fans. A blood-sucking vampire flick with
plenty of action, Blood… is less mind-bendingly strange than our
previous two choices. It even has some English dialog, as most the
action takes place on a US military base in 1960s Japan. The heroine is
a ruthless samurai-sword-wielding vampire schoolgirl (excellent idea!)
who tracks down three bloodsucking demons on the base at Halloween. Not
very sophisticated stuff, but very cool. And, while some might gripe
that it’s less than an hour long, as far as we’re concerned, such
brevity comes almost as a blessed relief.

Kagen No Tsuki (The Last Quarter)
Picking out these films was a gamble, and it turns out that The Last
Quarter is less a spine-chilling horror movie than a soppy, romantic
ghost story for teenyboppers. Oops. A gothic tale of love and death, it
stars Chiaki Kuriyama (the psycho schoolgirl from Kill Bill) as a
mixed-up young girl named Mizuki who meets an enigmatic stranger, Adam
from London (played by the sulky, diminutive L’Arc en Ciel singer Hyde,
who is quite blatantly not English at all). She falls in love, but it
turns out that Adam’s actually a ghost and, after she gets hit by a car
during a lunar eclipse and falls into a coma, Mizuki’s soul becomes
trapped in an old castle, possessed by the spirit of Adam’s old
girlfriend. It’s all very melodramatic, with lots of those scenes of
crying men that are arguably unique to Japanese cinema (pull yourself
together, goddammit!), and looks decidedly made-for-TV. Still, we just
about manage to stay awake throughout, and after a few hours of
watching sick and twisted video nasties, The Last Quarter has a certain
innocent charm. Hyde shouldn’t give up the day job just yet, though.

Daimajin Strikes Again
This one starts with the usual ominous music, thundering footsteps,
collapsing scenery and people fleeing in terror. Yep, it’s a good
old-fashioned monster movie, and we’re looking forward to an easy,
brainless story with lots of mayhem and destruction. Daimajin is a
massive 60-foot statue who comes to life whenever he’s angry. It takes
quite a while for the abominable beast to make an appearance, but when
he does it’s an awesome spectacle. Daimajin looks like a super-sized
samurai with the face of the Wicked Witch of the West (if you can
imagine that), but he’s as hard as nails, and could hold his own
against Godzilla. His stomping ground is feudal-era Japan, where a
small mountain community worship the statue as a god. When an evil
warlord messes with his homeys, Daimajin opens a can of whup-ass – a
sight akin to witnessing the big Buddha in Kamakura springing to life
and going apeshit. He demolishes houses, crushes people underfoot, and
skewers one poor guy on his sword like a kebab. Perfect.

Battle Royale
This dose of explosive carnage certainly wakes us up, like a
much-needed slap in the face. So excited were we to see this notorious
movie, we overlooked the fact that it has no English subs. Not to
worry: by this point in the night, we’re so tired of reading, and so
deranged by lack of sleep that we really couldn’t care less.
Fortunately, the film’s easy to follow, because we already know the
premise – in the near future, as part of a government program, a class
of delinquent school kids is dumped on a desert island, armed with
weapons, and instructed to murder each other until only one remains…
or they’ll all be killed. Lovely. This sets the scene for lots of
maiming, shooting and decapitation, as the kids bump each other off
with an arsenal including machine guns, crossbows and saucepan lids. A
non-stop, emotional, heart-thumping ride, Battle Royale is like Lord of
the Flies on steroids. I’d like to see them remake this baby with the
cast of Saved by the Bell.

So there we have it: some of the
selections turned out to be very odd indeed, but pretty damn
entertaining nonetheless. True, most of these films left us feeling
more dumbfounded than spooked – and somehow, I can’t see the movie
moguls in Hollywood climbing over each other to get to the rights for
oddities like Wild Zero and The Last Quarter… but, hey, at least the
film-makers have all been nice enough to stick subtitles on for us, and
for that we salute them. I’m going to bed now, my brain hurts.