Japanese: Shibuya Kaidan (Shibuya Ghost Story)
Romaji: Shibuya Kaidan
Japanese Title：渋谷 怪談
Release Date: 07th February 2004 (Japan)
Running Time: 71 mins.
Director: Kei Horie
Writer: Osamu Fukutani, Issei Shibata
Starring: Fumina Hara, Maki Horikita, Asami Mizukawa, Chisato Morishita, Mayuka Suzuki, Soko Wada, Tomohisa Yuge, Tsugumi Shinohara
I first heard of the director Kei Horie when I did one of my trailer round-ups a few months ago. His latest film, Sentimental Yasuko, sounded very interesting so I checked his filmography where I discovered that he had a number of J-horror titles early on in his career named The Locker 1 and 2 and he had starred in Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On: The Grudge 2. Both The Locker 1 and 2 are available as a set in the west. I am going to review them one at a time to find out what they are like.
Rieka (Morishita) and her friends Ai (Suzuki), and Akihiko (Wada), are on a group date with a bunch of guys. They travel to the countryside for a camping trip and end up in a field with a Jizo statue which indicates that the ground is sacred and looked after by the statue. Rieka hears a baby crying but none of the others do. Ai points out that “Rieka has always been the one who says strange stuff” but it is clear that the group are spooked and they soon head back to Shibuya where they have stored some of their stuff in a coin locker. When Ai and Akihiko disappear Rieka is concerned. A student Rieka is tutoring named Ayano (Horikita) tells her of a haunted coin locker in Shibuya that brings luck if you confess love in front of it but this does not seem to be the case and that coin locker may be much more deadly than first imagined.
The Locker is low-budget take on the urban legends which surround coin lockers. It attempts to weave together ideas surrounding love and responsibility and the disposable nature of such things in the modern world with a nice twist on the coin locker legend. It is these elements which are the strongest in the movie because every other element is under-written and its horror imagery is all too familiar but even within the clichés it has moments when it shows a degree of skill.
The ghost may be a cliché, all long-hair and shadowy appearances and with a love of hijacking mobile phones, but its origin came totally from left field. I had little idea what its source might be and when it came I was surprised. I could see where the writer had built up clues and it was well handled (the same cannot be said about the characters but that will come later). It is nothing revelatory in J-horror terms but it weaves together nicely with the themes of the film. The yurei itself is rather creepy at moments when it is not too exposed. Although the terrible, clichéd CGI (long hair!) and physical effects (hands appearing in frame!) are mostly familiar, the ghost does have some rather creepy moments where it shreds through time and space to terrorise characters and catch the audience off-guard. The sound design is also very effective at creating a harrowing mental space for Rieka to endure.
Where the film really fails is in the acting and the script. None of the actors convey the sense that they are undergoing anything too traumatic, reactions are delayed and emotions are either pitched too high or too low. This is partly the fault of the script which gives the actors one-note characters to play – the boys are generally obnoxious and sex obsessed, the girls flighty and vapid. The script fails to allow transitions between horror and laughter to go smoothly. At one point a character runs from a horrific scene of terror rather half-heartedly and then stops to check her phone so that a plot point could be delivered. I also felt that the characters jumped to the curse angle too easily without fully undergoing anything too supernatural. There is an amusing scene where they try and fix the curse but then the mood of the characters shifts awkwardly from terror to joy as if the deaths and hauntings have had little effect. They are really just stock-characters at the mercy of a script which lacks sophistication which is a shame because there are solid ideas at play.
Overall I felt that the film was rather clichéd and dull. It does have its moments but the inconsistency in the script and the acting prevents it from being anything other than generic and the variable special effects hamstring it from achieving anything memorable. Kei Horei’s debut is rather unmemorable. Can the sequel improve?