"I love you to death."
Junji Ito movie adaptations, why do I keep coming back to you like some kind of ex-lover bent on winning you back? What is wrong with me that I keep expecting quality in these movies when all there is is... uh... Wait... just give me a moment to collect my confused and befuddled thoughts. I just finished this movie and... Love Ghost isn't bad...? Are you serious, me? Did you seriously think it was... (Dare I even say it?)... good? Did you actually LIKE it?
Okay, this movie is not precisely what I could ever call "good," but it's better than many of the other Junji Ito film adaptations I've seen. It's better than Kakashi or Marronnier without any single doubt in my mind. Hell, it may even be on par with Uzumaki, although I'm not sure how much that is worth exactly. See, Uzumaki, although a fun movie to watch is not even close to being a horror movie. The manga in that case was actually horror, but the movie was more like a comedy with a few horror overtones maybe-kind of. Love Ghost (or Lovesick Dead, Undying Love, or Shibito no koiwazurai) is a pretty interesting film when compared to Uzumaki, with incredibly different tones throughout the movie and a great deal done differently. Where Uzumaki is goofy and kind of fun to watch, Love Ghost is handled pretty seriously. I had once heard the argument that Kakashi was the serious Junji Ito movie equivalent of Uzumaki in terms of quality and story, but I'm going to disagree with that and instead say that Love Ghost should be the equivalent.
It is a fairly well made movie when all is said and done. No, it's not perfect, and no, it's not a very good adaptation of the original manga, but it works in its own convoluted and odd way. I actually enjoyed a good majority of this film, only finding the last third or so of the movie truly mediocre. The rest of it enjoys some great acting, some really decent directing, some fitting musical cues, and some great settings. While I will never give this movie an award for being amazing, it works quite well for what it is, an adaptation of a really good manga.
Now, Lovesick Dead (the manga) is probably one of my favorite Junji Ito stories. It is four volumes and works quite well at both tension and a creepy factor. The movie changes a great deal from the source material, with the plot, characters, and ultimate ending all being very different. In the manga, the main character is Ryuusuke, a sixteen year old boy who moves back to the town where he grew up ten years after he and his family left it behind. It goes into Ryuusuke trying to fit into school and eventually meeting up with an old friend of his, Midori. Midori is the main character of the movie with her character ultimately taking the place of Ryuusuke in the fish out of water plot, but not in plot importance really.
Over the course of the manga, Ryuusuke finds himself angsting over whether he should tell Midori that he believes that he was responsible for the death of her aunt by giving that aunt a bad fortune while he was in a rotten mood when he was six. Yeah, the guilt of this boy runs really deep. It runs so deep, in fact, that somehow through a bad fortune and the ill-fated death of Midori's aunt, a doppelganger of Ryuusuke emerges from him, stalking the streets of the town they live in, giving terrible fortunes to young women, and causing them to ultimately commit suicide. This is complex, isn't it? Anyway, this doppelganger is named "Intersection Bishounen" and is wildly popular with the young women of the town, who seek him out for both love and fortune, and fear him for the same.
These young women play a game called "Intersection Fortune Telling," or Tsujiura in the film, which involves standing in an intersection, putting something over your face (like a book-bag), and telling your troubles to the first person who comes there, hoping that they'll give a happy fortune to you. This game is the focal point of the entire plot, being the reason why Midori's aunt committed suicide and the reason why the doppelganger preys so easily on the young women of the town. It is also the sticking point of the movie plot as well although it is nowhere near as important in the film.
The story progress with almost all the young high school women falling to this "Pretty Boy." A rumor goes around that Ryuusuke is the Bishounen, but since that isn't precisely true he denies it... The girls pursue him anyway, believing the rumor. Midori sticks by him through thick and thin, believing him and helping him throughout the story to figure out the mystery and make everything right in the end. This being a Junji Ito story though, the two of them fall for each other, but Ryuusuke pushes her away because he's afraid of his guilt and of his feelings for her. While he begged her not to play the game, eventually her curiosity and brokenhearted feelings at Ryuusuke (who had told her of his role in her aunt's death) gets the better of her and she plays the fortune game, meeting the Bishounen and causing both of their downfalls. Midori goes insane with rage and hatred for Ryuusuke, tormenting and torturing him both physically and mentally until she finally commits suicide, which breaks Ryuusuke, who had loved her. Ryuusuke eventually sacrifices himself to a mob of crazed young women to make everything right, ending the Bishounen's reign of terror and becoming the "White-Clothed Bishounen" who gives good fortunes instead.
Uh... yeah, this movie is not that plot though. Simply enough, while some similar plot threads run through both, the movie only goes through two girls who play the fortune game. Ryuusuke is both a ghost and the Bishounen character, even if he has no reason to be at all in this storyline. And you know why he has no reason to be the Bishounen here? He doesn't give bad advice or have guilt or a dark side. He instead dies at seven to a crazy lady who wanted the fortunes that Midori told to be true so she could be with her lover. Midori had, before meeting the woman, foretold that Ryuusuke would die the next day in a refrigerator with his tongue cut out... as a joke... because that is what seven year old children joke about. The tattooed woman, who doesn't come in until the end of the movie, carries traits from Midori's aunt from the manga as well as a crazy woman in the manga who stalks both Ryuusuke and Midori when they decide to be helpful to her. The tattooed woman in the manga eventually kills her lover's child to gain his love back... which is basically what happens in the movie as the main plot. She kills Ryuusuke to make Midori's fortune seem more true, asks for a fortune, gets Midori telling her she will never find love, then kills herself by stabbing and immolation in front of Midori. This is probably why Midori is insane, come to think of it... Oh, I'll explain that statement, just give me a few sentences.
So, Ryuusuke is dead and a ghost. Midori sees him despite the fact that he's a ghost. They're in love for some reason despite him being dead and her being... we're getting there... but there's this added plotline of a tall jockish kind of guy falling for her while all the girls around him are crazy for him and commit suicide because they can't be with him because he likes Midori despite knowing her a single day. And it gets confusing. I'm already confused. There's a body in the wall of Midori and her mother's house, and it turns out to be the mother's lost husband. There's no intersection fortune telling... it's now fortune telling around a creepy shrine. Oh, and Midori is crazy and escaped from a mental institution. Yeah. It kind of pops up out of nowhere.
Adding to this, Midori's mother is actually Ryuusuke's mother who is posing as Midori's mother, and she's also quite insane and from the same facility as Midori. They escaped together posing as mother and daughter for some reason even though Ryuusuke's mother seems to have no idea who Midori is half of the time.
The whole institution plot caught me off-guard, I have to admit. Nothing like that happens in the manga, and it seems needlessly complex for an already needlessly complex story. The last half hour is weird and nonsensical, mirroring Midori's own insanity. I didn't like the plot-twist and felt it took away from a movie with a pretty solid premise. Previous to that last half hour, I was enjoying myself immensely, liking the adapted story for the most part despite myself and itself. That last third of the movie killed a bit of my enjoyment of it, relying on cheap tricks and overdone plot points to tell its ghost story.
In the end you have to wonder if Midori is dreaming or dead as she lies upon her insane asylum bed. And you also have to wonder if the filmmakers even understood the actual point of the well put-together manga. I was more disappointed than thrilled by this adaptation, but that is seriously exactly how these Junji Ito movies always go. Always, seriously. Well, at least this wasn't Kakashi...
As for the more technical aspects of the flick, most of the film is incredibly competent. While there are times of inappropriately loud music and Foley effects that are missing or too faint to hear, most of the sounds and music are actual quite fitting. The visuals are muddy at times, but you could actually tell that the director, Kazuyuki Shibuya, knew what he was doing for the most part. The framing of most shots are quite well done, with only a few hiccups from time-to-time, mostly in regards to focusing on a particular face or expression for way longer than is needed. The actors' expressions are sometimes hard to read as well, particularly Ryuusuke's, although that might have been the idea even though it was awkward to see within the movie proper.
One of the down sides of this movie is that it relies on tropes that are seen time and time again in these Japanese horror films like a character never being able to tell anybody the way they feel if they like another character. Then there's the typical Japanese town and walk to school that seems to be in absolutely every Japanese movie, manga, or anime ever made that involves school children. There's also the fact that nobody seems to understand anything about what liking or loving people means, and this point blank refusal to accept defeat in love gracefully without committing suicide or dying in some horrible way. Also there's that unfailing trope of a ghost that doesn't seem to be a ghost until a character realizes much later that it is a ghost. This one also involves the trope of the ghost being a student and seeming absolutely real despite being a ghost. Now, I know Japanese ghosts are different than western ghosts, but this is silly. Aren't there records for these kids in the school? I know this means much less in this movie because of the crazy Midori and maybe Ryuusuke is kind of in her head and comes from her maybe, but there are plenty of other movies where this happens, and it's ridiculous.
I also want to talk to Suzue, a character in the film for one moment here. Call this a public service announcement to her and characters like her. Let me just say that, Suzue, jock-dude told you point blank he liked Midori. Don't start thinking he'll magically start liking you AFTER he revealed to you he liked her. That's ridiculous. I understand that a pretty ghost boy thing told you to think about yourself, but jock-boy TOLD YOU POINT BLANK HE LIKES MIDORI. How dumb can you be, Suzue? Oh, dumb enough to put your blood in the dude's food so that he can taste your love for him. I'm sure that's not something he's going to freak out about especially when you tell him while he's been eating it. That is... just... wonderful. No, Suzue, stop repeating "I love you" over and over again. That is not helping anybody or your love, especially when you are putting a blade up to your throat. Look, suicide is not the answer. if you wait just a few days, Midori will be insane again and dead/sleeping... and you can seriously probably have the jock dude all to yourself without anybody caring at all. It's not as if Midori was interested in him anyway. But no, you had to crazily and creepily repeat it over-and-over again and then kill yourself in front of him. That's really the best way to go about winning him over, isn't it Suzue? And now you're probably dead. What are you going to do now?
While all of that is very Junji Ito of the plot to do... I find it also very indicative of Asian horror movies in general... and I hate it oh so much. Again, this movie is not bad, just kind of mediocre and standard. While the source material is all kinds of creepy and awesome, this film is fairly bland. There were many times I was simply bored at the progression of the plot, or tired of the characters, or just kind of wishing it would all be over. While I don't dislike this movie, it really is incredibly forgettable, especially with an awful name like Love Ghost. There is no horror here, no real scares, and no real interest. While I liked it sort of a bit for where it came from, I think this movie should be avoided even by hardcore Junji Ito fans. There's simply not enough good stuff here for me to even think about recommending it.