With a title like that I was expecting spooks on the high seas but this is about ghosts spreading their malign influence over the airwaves. It doesn’t quite make the grade as horror and ultimately feels like another average low-budget digitally shot film meant to cash in on the Ringu phenomena where ghosts use technology to get us.
At a TV network board meeting, Hiroshi Usui (Toshihiro Wada) is asked to boost ratings for his show ‘Akie Doma’s Exorcism’. The show draws people who love the supernatural as well as the mentally disturbed. It also draws the ire of a psychiatrist named Kawamura (Meikyo Yamada) who accuses Usui of exploiting the mentally unbalanced. Usui visits the house of an overzealous fan named Tsuyoshi Nagao (Masaki Miura) who lives with his sister Runa (Shihori Kanjiya) who he believes is possessed. Despite Runa’s protestations that the ghosts will be angry with an exorcism, Tsuyoshi and Usui make a deal allowing the filming of Runa’s exorcism. Akie Doma (Asuka Kurosawa) performs the exorcism. Strangely it is Tsuyoshi who has a violent physical reaction whilst Runa’s gaze is locked on something invisible that she apologises to. Later Usui is approached by Kawamura who reveals the phenomena of “Dead Waves”, radio waves that harbour vengeful spirits who use TV broadcasts to draw people into the world of death. Despite scepticism, Hiroshi is uneasy because he discovers disturbing information surrounding the Nagao’s and a revelation about his ex-girlfriend. The show with the Nagao’s is due to broadcast soon, could Dead Waves exist? Are the Nagao’s cursed by ghosts or is there something more mundane but just as deadly.
As a person who watches the occasional ghost hunting show full of strange noises and floating orbs the idea of basing a film around TV execs cynically exploiting disturbed people who may or may not actually be haunted caught my attention. The potential clash between scepticism and belief could result in a gripping mystery playing on the audience’s perception of events and the supernatural.The films plays this well at first with a believable trashy TV show crewed by cynics, heartless TV executives in dark boardrooms, an emotionally troubled director and strange people as the subjects but despite brief use of slasher movie mechanics and some ghostly special effects the film’s atmosphere never took off.
I’ll be blunt about why: the film suffers from uninspired writing, low-budget and average acting.
Although the film sets up interesting ground to explore the writing doesn’t rise above conventional. Attempts at maintaining the central mystery lead to plot threads dropped on the approach to the final third of the film which is cluttered with one event after another and characterisation which isn’t given enough depth and relies on flashbacks which puncture atmosphere.
Although the actors playing the hero and antagonist are respectively handsome and creepy enough for the roles Furutachi is soporific as Usui. Perhaps it’s down to direction but he wanders through the film in a daze only waking up in his scenes with Kanjiya towards the end. Meanwhile Miura as Tsuyoshi Nagao comes across as conventionally unhinged where he drools and yells a lot and beats his chest. My lack of interest in the hero meant I wasn’t gripped by his plight or his character arc or his exploration of the central mystery.
As a result I started noticing things that irritated me. There are no costume changes which I found distracting because Miura went around the entire film in bare feet creating not so much a feeling that he is mentally unhinged but the costume department blew its budget on the exorcist’s kimono.
Lack of budget is a shame because I would have liked to have seen an elaborate Shinto exorcism but the one on display was brief, set in a barely furnished room and lacked a sense of ceremony and atmosphere. That said the film does have a few chilling scenes like the one where Usui reviews the exorcism on film. I also liked Asuka Kurosawa who plays the exorcist icily cool in her brief appearances.
With a lot more focused writing setting up characters and more of the budget spent on locations the film might have worked. Perhaps a focus on the film crew being haunted/picked off one by one. I recently reviewed Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Séance which has a similar running time and (almost similar) subject-matter. That film works because of its rigorousness. It has brilliant writing with depth of knowledge exploring the supernatural, brilliant acting conveying character and cinematic rigorousness with mise-en-scene in a few well-chosen locations. In contrast Dead Waves has a large cast who don’t sell their roles whilst wandering around many locations that don’t cry ‘lived in’. A competently made film but not much else.
Release Date: February 05th, 2005 (Japan)
Running Time: 77 mins.
Director: Yoichiro Hayama
Writer: Yoichiro Hayama, Kayo Kano (Screenplay),
Starring: Toshihiro Wada, Shihori Kanjiya, Masaki Miura, Asuka Kurosawa, Meikyo Yamada, Kanji Furutachi, Akiko Esaki, Miho Hirata,