Yusuke Yamada’s horror novel gets the film treatment but it is a bland retelling.
Takeshi (Miyake) is haunted by a troubling memory. When he was a child he and his friends played a “game” which, legend has it, can transport a person to a room with a ghost missing a thumb. If you find the thumb you can have a wish granted. If someone taps you on the shoulder you must not turn around or you will be trapped in that room forever. Takeshi’s friend Yumiko (Ono) who was unhappy at home and never returned from the game. At an elementary school reunion Takeshi is reunited with his friends Chie (Ito), Tomohiko (Matsuyama), Aya (Nagai), and Nobuhisa (Onoue). They too are troubled with guilt like Takeshi but for different reasons because Takeshi believes the game actually worked and he was transported to the room and heard Yumiko scream and did nothing to save her whereas his friends believe that Yumiko merely ran away from home. In order to soothe Takeshi’s troubled mind the friends replay the game. But nothing happens. Not that this convinces Takeshi and he continues to investigate the game just as his friends start to disappear.
Oyayubi Sagashi – a rough translation might be search for the thumb. Uninspiring, right? Well everything about this film struck me as bland and inoffensive due to lacklustre delivery.
Direction, special effects, and audio effects are solid and nothing more. The camera work is mostly static and the lack of energy gives you time to reflect on how overly familiar and complacent proceedings are. Jingling bells signalling supernatural presences, creepy shadows emerging from behind characters, and creepy arms coloured a sickly hue grabbing shoulders are par for the course. The fact that it is all presented with so little verve means it provides diminishing returns the more it happens. When there is action on the screen and there should have been some motion to convey life, physicality or dread the camera remains still.
The story had the potential to be interesting as it involves subject matter like a creepy urban legend and an exploration of guilt held by different characters. Unfortunately it is revealed through a convoluted plot that is turgidly delivered. Another problem is the subplot involving a police investigation into Takeshi’s behaviour which aims to cast doubt on Takeshi’s version of events but comes off muddled and ineffectively used before tapering off and leaving it for the main plot to explain what happened in flashbacks.
It is not all bad because everything on screen is easy to follow, the actors are allowed their time and there are some nice sequences including one involving multiple handprints minus thumbs appearing out of nowhere and a dissolving corpse but it is nothing spectacular. As far as the score goes I cannot remember a single note from it so it must have been bland.
The film did manage to draw big name actors.
Ken Miyake of the pop-group V6 is a capable actor if bland which might be a strength in a film which requires the viewer to question the protagonists behaviour. Is he obsessed over a childhood trauma or did something supernatural happen? Unfortunately complacent direction and lackadaisical plot progression smothers anything less than the most blatant overacting.
What emotion there is comes down to veteran actors Kenichi Matsuyama and Ayumi Ito who emerge as the most convincing and sympathetic. Matsuyama (Norwegian Wood, Bright Future) gives a decent performance as a man disillusioned with life and looking for greater meaning in events while Ito (All About Lily Chou-Chou) convinces as a woman who is reluctantly searching her memories for the truth of what happened.
I have not read the source novel so I cannot confirm whether this is an improvement or a travesty but one thing that I do know is that this film is bland and almost totally devoid of atmosphere and originality. Maybe I am too demanding a viewer and somebody who has not watched as many Japanese horror films as I have might be entertained… I doubt it.
Romaji: Oyayubi Sagashi
Release Date: 3rd February 2007 (Japan)
Running Time: 96 mins.
Director: Naoto Kumazawa
Writers: Naoto Kumazawa, Izumi Takahashi (Screenplay), Yusuke Yamada (Original Novel)
Starring: Kenichi Matsuyama, Ken Miyake, Runa Nagai, Ayumi Ito, Asuka Ono, Hiroyuki Onoue