My Little Sweet Pea 麦子さんと (2013)

My Little Sweet Pea                       With Mugiko Film Poster       

Japanese Title:  麦子さんと

Romaji: Mugiko-san to

Release Date: December 21st, 2013

Running Time: 95 mins.

Director: Keisuke Yoshida

Writer: Keisuke Yoshida, Ryo Nishihara (Screenplay),

Starring: Maki Horikita, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kimiko Yo, Sayaka Tashiro, Amane Okayama, Eri Fuse, Yoichi Nukumizu

Japan has always been good for films about women. It is thematic territory so rich in stories that there are genres such as the haha-mono (mother story). These are films that follow a specific formula where a mother figure endures a hard life and sacrifices herself for her (often ungrateful) family. Her suffering comes into focus in a teary-eyed ending where everybody cries and repents their actions, expressing the desire to change. Specific examples Keisuke Kinoshita’s tragic and bitter Nihon no Higeki (1953) and Yasuhiro Ozu’s The Only Son (1936), two films guaranteed to make an audience shed many tears of sadness. For a lighter one, try The Wolf Children (2012) which is about the struggles of a single mother with two unique kids (you will still shed tears but happy ones). My Little Sweet Pea falls into this genre but is different because it focusses on the children’s realisation of their mother’s sacrifice rather than the parent’s travails. 

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The Locker 2 渋谷怪談 2 (2004)

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The Locker 2                                                                                     Shibuya Kaidan 2 Poster

Japanese: Shibuya Kaidan 2 (Shibuya Ghost Story 2)

Romaji: Shibuya Kaidan 2

Japanese Title:渋谷 怪談 2

Release Date: 07th February 2004 (Japan)

Running Time: 71 mins.

Director: Kei Horie

Writer: Osamu Fukutani, Issei Shibata

Starring: Maki Horikita, Asami Mizukawa, Kenichi Matsuyama, Akane Kimura, Chisato Morishita, Tomohisa Yuge, Chiaki Ota,

I found the first instalment of the Shibuya Kaidan franchise to be hampered by a disappointingly generic story with wafer thin characters while the low-budget effects offered mixed results. The Locker 2 improves greatly on the first film.

Ayano (Horikita) has been given a terrible gift from Rieka (Mizukawa) – a key to a coin-locker. Ayano tracks down the coin-locker but decides that she should leave it be. Unfortunately some students at her school have heard of the urban legend surrounding a coin-locker in Shibuya which grants wishes. Their interest in the coin-locker will release the curse again.

Following directly on from the last movie the world of Shibuya Kaidan has already been established and so the sequel has a lot of material to work from including characters. There is also a greater examination of the origins of the curse and more twists on the coin-locker legends. As a result of this there is more time spent massaging scenes and details to create a solid story and even tone. The quality of the script has improved. Nothing evolutionary or wholly original but enough to make the plot tighter and believable, improve the flow of the action, and add details to the characters.

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The Locker 1 渋谷怪談 (2004)

Shibuya Kaidan Review Header

The Locker                                                                                            Shibuya Kaidan Poster

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.

Shibuya Kaidan Haunted Phone

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.

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One Missed Call Final 着信アリファイナル (2006)

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The One Missed Call franchise follows the law of diminishing returns: with each title the directors are less prestigious, the scares are less effective but the story stands in defiance of that trend as it becomes increasingly convoluted and silly. It all ends with this entry.

Asuka is mercilessly bullied by her classmates and when they journey to Korea on a high school class trip she plots her revenge by sending messages that contain menacing pictures and sounds depicting painful death to each classmate with the note “Death Exemption by Forwarding the Message”.  The first to get the message is Azusa, one of Asuka’s most vicious bullies, but she is sceptical. The next day, while wandering around Jagalchi market in Korea Azusa is assaulted by a supernatural force. After her attack the other students start to receive messages and hurry to forward them to others and avert their own deaths!

Hangings in One Missed Call 3

From the off we’re introduced to a class full of bullying jerks as they make Asuka’s life hell and then the rest of the film gives us delightful prospect of seeing them all get bumped off. The opening scenes are pretty disturbing as characters like Hideki, Hiroyuki, and Azusa are physically violent to Asuka and for the first time when watching a J-horror I felt that the vengeful ghost was justified in her attacking random people even vaguely connected to her suffering.

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