White Panic 怖来 (2005)

White Panic   Furai Film Poster

Japanese:  怖来

Romaji: Fu-Rai

Release Date: June 13th, 2005

Running Time: 70 mins.

Director: Shugo Fujii

Writer: Shugo Fujii (Screenplay), Akio Morisawa (Original Story)

Starring:  Shugo Oshinari, Ayaka Maeda, Kazuo Yashiro, Fumiaki Mitsuyama

Fu-Rai has a start that could potentially grip the viewer:

The first thing we hear is the sound of panting. The first thing we see is a foot. The camera leeringly pans from the foot to the thigh of a naked young woman and she is covered in a mysterious powdery white substance. She is not alone. A man clutches her. Despite the focus on the young woman’s body, there is nothing remotely sexy about this scene. We view them from a high angle shot and see them bathed in red light with a look of fear on their faces as they stare at a point just above the camera. Cut to a POV shot and we see what they are looking at: an electronic counter is nearing 0. The closer it gets the more ragged their breathing becomes and then… Cut to black as they scream.

And then the film gets into the real meat of the action which is when it falls apart.

The next thing we see is a man waking up in the room. He is named Ken Goubara (Oshinari). He is one of a group of four young naked people trapped in a small room covered in white powder. The others are a woman named Yumi Umezawa (Maeda), a Korean named Sayoon Kim (Yashiro) and an overweight guy named Boo Motokawa (Mitsuyama). At first they fight each other for possession of one of three towels and as they try to establish who they are and why they are together. All each can remember is that they were leading difficult lives and then kidnapped but the more they talk the more they begin to piece together but progress is halted as every so often the room they are in is pumped full of gas and they are attacked by men wearing gas masks who force them to drink a mysterious liquid. One attack goes wrong for the captors after the four form an alliance and fight back. Even though they escape the room they do no trust each other but that is just the start of their nightmare…

Director Shugo Fuji has spent a lot of his career churning out horror films and judging by the trailers I have seen, they get cheaper and cheaper. This one can only be described as no-budget, something made painfully clear when the actors leave the room and explore their surroundings and try to find out more about the masked men who have captured them.

What happens in this part is that the characters have to avoid the (incredibly stupid) traps that are placed around the buildings to catch the captives out. Razor wire stretches out across doorways (someone, tell the cleaners that thing is there) and there’s a sticky mat in a vent. That’s about it.

The cheapness extends to the location which can best be described as bland. The actors stumble around blank, dimly lit corridors, up and down stairways and fire escapes, and crawl through ventilation ducts and cower in store rooms crowded with boxes, trying to evade their captors. Perhaps it is deliberately bland when the twisted nature of the organisation that kidnaps people is considered, but it is still visually dull because nearly every location looks the same. Was there are art department involved in this or was the director ready with a digital camera, a boom operator and some actors willing to bumble about corridors in a towel. It is as if Fuji and his team were given two hours to film in a local office space and told to keep out of the way of people who are working.

Occasionally there are exterior shots and scenes in other locations but these are so flat and dull they sink into a general morass of grey blandness.

It would have been forgivable if the editing and shot composition made the film more interesting to watch but despite a few subjective camera shots the whole thing is conventional, like something from a ‘90s television show.

Ultimately it’s competently shot but not a cinematic film.

It is not particularly well-written either. The scenario is told with an ominous feeling that is built up over the course of the script but the shooting style and poor editing hamstring this atmosphere as we spend too much time watching characters wander around and bicker. Worse still, the characters are merely caricatures with unpleasant and wafer-thin personalities so it is hard to get invested in their fate. Ken is handsome and we should root for him because of that. Yumi, the girl, is reduced to being a quivering wreck and collapsing a lot. The Korean character is comic-relief (but he does get a bit of redemption) and so forth.

Where this story ends up going isn’t too hard to guess but the journey to get to the conclusion is a pain (despite the film being just over an hour long) because these two-dimensional figures are shackled to a script that gives them poor back-stories that lazily exploit rape and murder. These are told awkwardly in flashbacks shown through the course of the story. Okay, I do have one thing nice to say about the inept shooting style which is that at least those sections were brief and not too sleazily exploitative.

I feel sorry for the actors who bravely run around half-naked with nothing but towels strapped around them (amazing towels that don’t fall off!) for nearly an hour. The only survivors from this acting massacre are Shugo Oshinari as the main character Ken. He has graduated to indie and mainstream films like Kabukicho Love Hotel (2015) and Buzz (2015). The beautiful Ayaka Maeda (前田綾花) who appeared in The Suicide Manual (2012) has disappeared as far as I can tell (come back to us!).

They are trying hard to give their characters some life but their co-stars are wooden or their melodramatic performances are pitched so high they have shot through the stratosphere.

Out of all the low-budget J-horror movies I have watched, this is pretty much the worst. I try and highlight something good in every film but the only thing with this one is that it lasts about an hour.  It has an intriguing start and a decent premise undone by some poor work. A bigger budget may have saved this. It is competently shot but doesn’t do anything new or exciting for too much of its execution. I couldn’t remember the music from the film and re-watching the trailer I think it was because my mind wanted to block out the horrible memories.



Genkina Hito's Summer of Splatter Films

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