Monday, October 21, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Kaidan (怪談) (2007) and J-Horror Theater Wrap-Up

From the director of Ringu, Hideo Nakata, we have Kaidan, a movie about a curse and a ghost. As the fifth movie in the J-Horror Theater series, I wasn't expecting much. Hell, the fourth and sixth movies were not all that good in my opinion, with the sixth one, Kyofu, being a trainwreck of a movie. Kaidan is a masterpiece. While calling it strictly a horror movie is laughable, it is a great movie to just watch. Hideo Nakata could never make a better movie than this, and yet he would still have made one of the great ghost story movies of all time with this one.

While the story is a tradition Japanese one about a legacy of death, a curse, and love, it is also fantastically put together. A moneylender is killed by a broken Samurai in old Japan. The Samurai dies himself soon after, and their children grow up orphans. The moneylender's daughters grow to be beautiful and powerful in Old Tokyo (Edo), while the Samurai's son is very clearly of a lower status. He falls in love with one of the daughters, but their relationship is cursed, and when he decides to leave her, he is cursed as well.

And that's the basic story. I know it has been told before in movies like The Depths (1957) and others, but this is one of the more recent re-tellings of an old tale with a tragic story. The movie is art in motion throughout, showcasing both acting talent and a story that works incredibly well. It does take on the old idea that the sins of the father are passed down to the child, almost literally in the case of this movie. It shows that fate is fixed and cannot be changed. And a curse, a woman scorned, and ultimately fate... those things cannot be avoided. They will follow one around for the rest of his days.

Maybe it's a little silly, but a movie like this, made so traditionally about such a tradition matter, is exactly what I want to watch. It is one of the only period horror movies that I know about, which makes it very unique and incredibly interesting in its own right. I wasn't expecting what I received, neither the quality nor the absolute passion evident in this film.

Again, this is not strictly a horror film. While it has horror elements to it (mostly in small pieces and mostly at the end of the movie), it is much more of a historical drama of a sort. I would even call it a romance movie at times. While it doesn't always work, it damn well tries very hard to be something special, and I truly appreciate that. It hearkens back constantly to the ancestral sins as well showing that one's own sins can damn one as well. The way Shinkichi (the lead character) treats the women throughout the film can only be described as disheartening. While appearing to be a good man on the surface, he takes advantage of them, leaves them once they cannot give him what he wants, and finds another, prettier face. I know customs were different once upon a time, but I find it kind of sickening how easily he slimes his way through the story. Even then, there was a certain sadness I felt towards him at the end of the movie, before his ultimate fate is decided. It takes a great movie to make me feel something for a character I loathe, and this is certainly a special sort of movie.

Again, there really isn't horror here, so despite the moniker of J-Horror Theater, this is much more of a traditional ghost story, one of the ghost seeking revenge certainly, but one that shows very little in the way of actual scares. I would almost say that this movie is made in a way to be a throwback to early Japanese horror movies of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. It has that style and feel to it, although I could be wrong, I suppose.

Anyway, this is a great movie and I recommend it all the way, just don't expect a horror movie, because this isn't really one of them, not in the modern sense of the term anyway.

So, I guess we're done with all six movies of the J-Horror Theater. What six movies they were too! We saw everything in the Japanese Horror repertoire, from Infection with its subtle gore and mindscrew attitudes to Kyofu and its terrible and bizarre story. We saw Premonition and Reincarnation, both with their slow builds and near-perfect stories, both full of so much horror and awe that they'll always remain in my mind as true quality. And then we saw Retribution, a movie that I should have liked, and ended up finding far too dry for my taste. But even that one had a certain something, even if it was simply a single perfect scene. And finally we have Kaidan, a traditional ghost story I won't soon forget. All six movies were something to watch, even if I found two of them less than stellar. All-in-all the J-Horror Theater experiment was a success, really showing the quality that Japanese horror movies can achieve when their best directors take on the task of making amazing movies.

I'm glad I finally reviewed all these movies. They've been on my plate for years and years. I have a few more series and sets of movies like this to review, probably not this year (not at this point anyway), but next year and the years after I'll need more horror movies to review, so why not? I don't think I'll forget these movies, and if this year goes down as my J-Horror Theater October, then so be it. I think I can be proud of these reviews and these movies for the most part. I will admit I really wasn't expecting much out of these last three reviews, especially since two out of my first three reviews of this series were fairly negative. I'm glad that these final three movies picked up the series, making it rise in my opinion, and making all the hours I put into watching and reviewing these movies definitely worth it.

Anyway, until tomorrow night... 

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