Romaji: Akanbo Shojo
Release Date: August 02nd, 2008
Running Time: 100 mins.
Director: Yudai Yamaguchi,
Writer: Kazuo Umezu, Hirotoshi Kobayashi (Screenplay),
Starring: Naoko Mizusawa, Goro Noguchi, Takumi Saito, Asami, Atsuko Asano, Etsuko Ikuta, Itsuji Itao, Keisuke Horibe,
Director Yudai Yamaguchi followed up Meatball Machine (2008) with this schlocky horror film based on a manga by horror maestro Kazuo Umezu and it is a fun horror film full of death, destruction and a creepy baby-like creature brought to life by some “imaginative” CG/acting/physical effects. With a loony story, a classic haunted house setting, an OTT villain, and some ropey effects, every minute is perpetual fun to watch.
Ever since losing track of his daughter during a bombing raid during World War II, Keizo Nanjo (Noguchi) has searched long and hard for the girl, and at last, after fifteen years, he has found her at Hakuo orphanage. Her name is Yoko (Mizusawa) and she is a pretty slip of a girl.
She has been summoned to Nanjo mansion and is in the care of Mr Yoshimura (Horibe) until she arrives at the house but their journey from the station is a miserable one. It is a stormy evening when they set off, rain lashes down, lightning arcs across the sky and thunder booms. They hire a taxi and travel up a windy, remote road. Mr Yoshimura is concerned about something but keeps it from a nervous Yoko. Instead, he reassures the girl, “They’ll welcome you after all these years.”
The welcome from everybody but Keizo is a cold one. The head maid (Ikuta) initially refuses to take the girl worried that she will disturb the mistress of the house (Asano) but there’s more to it than that. The house holds a dark, hidden presence that stalks it halls and grounds and Yoko’s arrival angers it. Mr Yoshimura promises to stay in touch with Yoko but as he makes his way back to town, he becomes the first in a long line of victims to fall prey to… TAMAMI…
This film is a lot of fun to watch. The grand set, the doll-like monster, and the use of the camera reminds me of all those mid-budget horror films from ‘80s and ‘90s like Child’s Play and other movies where plastic-looking dolls come to life and stalk characters in morgues or castles.
“There’s something in the mansion!”
The film has a great fairy-tale atmosphere thanks to the classical story of an “orphan” brought into a home, the mansion with secrets squirrelled away in nooks and crannies, the large grounds with a garden maze and a research tower and the occasionally dreamy visuals.
As Yoko explores her new surroudings we get to see the locations and discover that her new home is your archetypal haunted mansion with narrow corridors, grandfather clocks, creepy statues, creaking floorboards, red curtains, rococo furniture, and religious iconography dotted everywhere and a room full of dolls. No mansion would be complete without secret passages’ which allows Tamami to creep around the house and so baby-like gurgling can be heard echoing around There is also a coven of creepy servants who seem to harbour dark secrets and conveniently turn a blind eye to the very visible stalking of Yoko. It’s a classic set-up enabled to be brilliant by the great set-design.
The setting is the 1950s/60s but there is a timeless sense to the film because of the set and the costumes – old-fashioned suits and kimonos. This could be the 1920s or earlier. Only the use of cars an telephones gives an indication of how modern the setting is.
The visuals are complemented by the great sound design. The constant hammering of the thunder, the windows that sound like they are being pawed by the wind (or maybe Tamami) during storms, the ominous footsteps in dark rooms, and the constant child-like noises create a cacophony of fear. It’s all atmospheric and allows the spirit of Tamami to hover over the film even when she is off-screen.
Off-screen is a pretty effective place for Tamami to be because the initial set-up of the film seems to play her off like a supernatural creature and makes the sense of threat feel super scary but she is all human and very much a victim.
Tamami is a rage-powered grotesquerie. An evil hideous super-human dwarf with fangs a melted face, and bangs, who is jealous of her sister’s good looks and we get to see her in all her glory as a CG/physical doll thrown around the set. This is mixed with an actress who performs the more complicated movements such as tearing heads off people and gurning. The film mixes these styles so there’s a thrill of fear as well as amusement (to the point of laughter in some scenes) over the scares and deaths as the fake and the real combine to make a memorable horror villain.
It is played up in every way possible with her hideous laughter providing a cadence of fear taloned claws.
My mocking and hurtful words in describing Tamami are exactly why she is so angry. SPOILERS Her father, Keizo is ashamed of the way she looks and has isolated her on the estate. She has not grown up properly and as a result she has curdled with resentment and anger. She is a malign presence but she loves her mother and there is a sense that she misjudges the effect of her actions. A degree of sympathy builds for this antagonist so when she utters her first (and last) words (“gomenasai”, as merciless as Tamami is, I reckon you will still feel sorry for her. SPOILERS
All the performances from in the human actors in the film are great. Naoko Mizusawa is the protagonist. She was a voice actor on Mai Mai Miracle (2009) and one of the two stars in POV: A Cursed Film (2012). She is perfect as the innocent Yoko, the pure and goodly character up against Tamami. Waif-like and beautiful, she will have the audience rooting for her as she runs and screams a good deal and finds herself perpetually under-threat.
The soundtrack, which is pretty good, consists of piano pieces that flourish into into baroque chamber-pieces at its best, and honking b-movie cliche when the action enters splatter territory. The best pieces are a riff on something Keith Emmerson might have composed for a Dario Argento movie like Inferno. Indeed, the film opens with the gnarled hands of a woman turning the pages of a book. She could be one of Argento’s witches. Turns out it’s the titular Tamami. Also much like Argento are the deaths which are realistic yet highly macabre. In the research tower that Keizo has are medieval European weapons and torture devices as well as the tools to clean them and they all get used. One character falls onto spikes and gets acid spilled on her skull while another one suffers a guillotining. These bits allow director Yamaguchi to indulge is love of gore!
Overall, I like this film a lot because it’s fun. A classic set-up and some brilliant set-design, a simple but well told story, great costumes, committed acting (despite the shades of silliness) and the sense of macabre fun make it easy to watch and the best Yudai Yamaguchi film I have seen thus far!