Genkinahito is back once again to present a film to give you some Halloween chills. As part of my annual celebration of the night, I have chosen a great horror title that I heartily recommend for some twisted filled fun. Previous years have featured Nightmare Detective, Strange Circus, and Shokuzai… This year I give you…
Japanese Title: POV～呪われたフィルム～
Romaji: POV ~Norowareta Film~
Release Date: 18th February 2012
Running Time: N/A
Director: Norio Tsuruta
Writer: Norio Tsuruta (Screenplay)
Starring: Mirai Shida, Haruna Kawaguchi, Yasuyuki Hirano
Due to his insistence on staying in the genre he helped popularise Norio Tsuruta, famous for Ring 0: Birthday (2000), is one of J-horror’s better and more committed directors with a filmography made up of titles that range across types. Much like fellow horror director, Koji Shiraishi, Tsuruta mixes modern media with yurei and urban folktales.
POV ~A Cursed Film~ opens in a similar fashion to Shiraishi’s best known work, Noroi: The Curse (2005), with on-screen text warning the viewer of the horrors to be seen before entering the first sequence which involves a lengthy set-up that effectively establishes character and situation.
Two idol girls, Mirai Shida and Haruna Kawaguchi are filming their no-budget variety show and the topic of the day is ghost stores. Shida is genuinely scared of ghosts but soldiers on as Kawaguchi plays a mysterious video that was sent in, the first of many references to Hideo Nakata’s seminal J-horror Ringu (1998). Said video is not one that anyone on the production team remembers programming for the show but as Kawaguchi watches the spooky corridors, the girl’s restroom with a cubicle door that opens by itself, and empty classrooms and she recognises her old school.
Eerie is the best way to describe the sights on the screen as there is no tangible proof that this place is haunted but still we get glimpses of shades just in frame, faces barely glimpsed peering in through the windows of a corridor which is on the third floor. It all culminates on the school’s rooftop where the camera’s POV is turned around to face the holder. As it moves, we see mottled legs, a tattered skirt and uniform and the scarred face of a girl who laughs in a sinister manner, “fufufufu.”
Everybody, especially Kawaguchi is freaked out because Kawaguchi used to hunt ghosts. Of course, despite a hesitant manager and a scared idol group and film crew, the gang are going to the haunted school to document the hot-spots on the tape not least because a psychic wants to cleanse the place. With the assistance of a sceptical teacher, they take a tour which will be filmed from multiple points of view – director Tachibana, his assistant Kitagawa and others…
This opening sequence has us primed to play spot the yurei as the film crew, led by the teacher, search the reputedly haunted corners of the school. Amidst the calm and stillness a sense of dread builds as the characters traipse around in the fading light of the day and into the oppressive silence of a building emptied of all life but the six people. The claustrophobia of the place sets in and the strange things happen. Locked doors open by themselves, lights flicker, shadows are glimpsed and the video camera images become fuzzy and distorted. The atmosphere becomes pregnant with dread. It is all underplayed at first and the gang even go some way to trying to debunk some of the strange occurrences as they investigate hauntings but these images are too freaky to forget, faces in windows, the silhouette of a man, the type of things we may swear we see in a dark corridor but are too uncertain (and scared) to confirm.
Then everything goes haywire and the ghosts come out in full force and the crew make like Scooby and the gang and run around corridors and classrooms.
From there everything becomes pretty generic in the second sustained sequence as a simple narrative of people trying to escape the ghosts, getting lost and running into each other, scaring each other and falling over.
One gets the sense Tsuruta is not trying to reinvent the genre he helped popularise, he is telling a solid tale and revealing how refined his techniques are and there is fun to be had witnessing a master at work. Everything is played straight. His script efficiently sets things up and even throws in a tragic and dark tale that is revealed. Even though the characters fall into horror clichés – let’s go investigate this place despite knowing it is clearly dangerous – and there is one outrageously melodramatic plot twist, I cannot pretend that I did not enjoy the film especially the execution of the haunting.
Once darkness descends and the characters are tired of traipsing around the school, Tsuruta hits the accelerator and the action picks up tremendously as the gang try and negotiate the haunted school. There are times when Tsuruta slows down to let the audience, and characters, catch their breath but these are momentary pauses that allow him to reset the ghosts so they can attack afresh from new positions. It is breathless stuff that is full of screams and shouting and some dialogue ripe with humour, “I can’t believe you are our manager. We have to go after her.”
Tsuruta proves his skill in the way he sets up shots and manipulates the frame. He can deploy familiar techniques like night vision and the shaky cam’s perspective and the position of actors to allow ghosts to get into the scene and surprise the audience. He also makes great use out of replaying recorded footage as a set-up for the emergence of more ghosts. Tsuruta enjoys having characters plunge into scary situations and with the scenes of investigation having made everything threatening, it is nerve-racking. The action is constant but rarely disorienting and when it is disorienting, it is deliberately done due to the person holding the camera running like hell with no particular direction in mind other than away from the ghosts.
These two sustained parts, the build-up and the scare, are fantastic. The camera is always rolling and there are few breaks in perspective which makes the film increasingly tense.
The sense of seriousness breaks down in the film’s coda which actually has a big and satisfying reveal where chaos totally reigns and it becomes fun. Crucially, Tsuruta uses the camera aspect ratio of the screen for a smart twist that explains everything including the title which gains new significance. The Ringu nods also come thick and fast. I won’t spoil this section, just sit back and enjoy the cheery J-pop song that plays after the credits role and everything that follows.
The cast are all solid and it would not be effective if they did not stay in character and take things seriously. They do, and it’s fun watching them put in energetic performances. Mirai Shida, voice of Kayo Horikoshi in The Wind Rises (2013) and Arrietty in The Secret World of Arrietty (2010), gamely plays up the role of idol with aplomb and Haruna Kawaguchi (the detective in Madame Marmalade) is also fun to watch.
I found that I enjoyed it more than something like Paranormal Activity due to the intense action and constant events. Overall, it’s a fun film and one of the better examples of idol horror and found-footage horror out there. I daresay that I prefer it to Noroi: The Curse.