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Original Title:

Japan 2001

Horror, Drama

Masato Harada

Yuki Amami
Atsuro Watabe
Eugene Harada
Kazuhiro Yamaji
Shiho Fujimura
Kanako Fukaura
Kenichi Yajima
Shion Machida
Masato Irie
Koichi Sato

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Story: Miki (Yuki Amami) lives in a rural town on the island Shikoku. She works at an old mill, where she produces paper the traditional way by using herbs and plants. When one day Akira (Atsuro Watabe) comes to the town, because he has a job at the local school, he instantly falls in love with Miki, who is several years older than him. However, what he doesn't know is that Miki's family is cursed. The female members of the family clan Bonomiya are burdened since generations with the task to look after a certain urn, in which restless dog-ghosts, the so called Inugami, live. Now, it's Miki's turn to watch after the forest ghosts and to appease them. Unfortunately, she is very occupied by her new love relationship with Akira. Miki somehow gets younger and younger day by day, while the villagers are suddenly plagued by nightmares. And then there even occur some strange "accidents".
The villagers hold Miki and her curse responsible for the recent events and the fact that there are more and more victims of the ghosts of the forest. Akira stands at the side of his girlfriend, trying to defend her, whereas he always clashes with Takanao (Kazuhiro Yamaji), who was the former boyfriend of Miki. While the situation in the village seems to get out of control, Akira has to find out even more disturbing things about Miki...

Review: "Inugami" is an interesting attempt to bring some brisk wind into the Japanese horror-genre. That is because this time filmmakers didn't try to ride on the money wave of the successful "The Ring". Yes, the movie manages to do absolutely without any black haired girl. Here, Shinto-rituals, religion, ghosts of nature, sects and incest stand in the plot's focus. The movie itself proves to be only half as creepy as one would have hoped for, but to make up for it we get a nice, gloomy and mystic horror drama about love and traditionl ghost stories. In the end the film loses itself in a unnecessarily entangled and at times unstructured script, but we get compensated by wonderful, dreamy pictures of the scenery.

In order to take some pleasure in watching this movie, you should at least have a little bit of interest for mysticism or traditional ghost tales. As for my part, I was captured by this world of religion, spirituality and ghosts of nature right from start. At times the story about dog ghosts who are imprisoned in an urn and have to be soothed, might seem ridiculous, but the director manages to keep up the credibility of his film by using the very tense atmosphere to his advantage. Nature is portrayed as a living being, that sends out ghosts to take revenge on humans. And fanatic followers of old religions gather together to fight those ghosts with old Shinto-rituals that have been practiced for generations. Superstition and the isolation of the protagonists, that is what's in the movie's spotlight all along and not revenge-thirsty ghost as one might have expected. That's really a welcome change to the old horror formula.
Moreover, the film, based on a novel by Masako Bando, can be quite enthralling thanks to well-written side characters like the hunter or Takanao and Rika.

Sadly, the viewer gets first-hand experience of the already mentioned isolation. The extremely slow pacing is becoming really tedious throughout the middle of the movie and when things finally gain some momentum, the events fly over the screen way too fast, so that you eventually will lose track. This is also the fault of the irritating story-telling and the fact, that we can't or shouldn't sympathize with the characters. This is the more of a problem as the acting achievements of the cast are pretty good. Yuki Amami and Atsuro Watabe give a nice portrayal of their characters and the supporting cast is also doing a good job. But when it comes down to it you just can't relate to or share the thrill with them.

Towards the end, the story gets some dramatic twists, of which some, however, are pretty predictable as the movie doesn't hold back with inserting enough hints during the course of the movie. Moreover, there are also some shocking topics like incest and human sacrifices brought into play, yet this strangely can't really arouse any strong feelings in us. In the conventional way there is also nothing frightening to be found either. It's just the mysticism of the pictures that is responsible for a constant uneasy feeling in the stomach.
Apart from that, there is also a surprisingly good amount of eroticism in "Inugami", even though there is nothing special to be seen here. It's also nice that there are some more funny moments throughout the movie, which luckily don't stand in contrast to the gloomy atmosphere of the rest. Nevertheless, the extremely tranquil pacing is the biggest flaw of the movie and so you should definitely bring along some patience, if you want to take some pleasure in absorbing the wonderful pictures.

Concerning the scenery, director Masato Harada ("Kamikaze Taxi") proves to have a great eye for the right setting. Nature in general, the forest, the wooden huts, this all seems to be filled with ghostlike life and yet it doesn't create any bad feeling in the viewer most of the time, but instead takes us into a world full of melancholy and peace. Sadly, the director seems to prefer to emphasize his wonderful pictures than to work on the story and so lots of things just come to nothing or are just put to an end way too unsatisfactory. We get a hidden Oedipus-story, incest is part of the tale and nothing is put under taboo. Provocative and interesting, but for whatever reasons, Harada doesn't keep it rolling. Instead he focuses more on his composition of pictures as can be seen when it comes to the massacre during the ritual which is captured in great black-and-white pictures. However, this makes "Inugami", added by the fact that the running time is way too stretched, an unnecessarily frustrating movie experience.

If it's great visuals you want, then don't look any further. Even unimportant scenes, like those in the mill, where Miki produces paper, are captured with amazing intensity. The contrast between nature and technique is worked out pretty well, too, as it is best seen during the moments when computers are seen, which just look incredibly out of place in this world. Harada creates impressive pictures, but can't really make use of them, so that his movie isn't really special as a whole. The story, as some of the allusions and symbolism, is really good and especially the mysticism factor can be quite enthralling. Still, towards the end you just can't find your way back into the movie. The story is too mixed up to follow anymore and the film as a whole just feels too lengthy.
Patient viewers will get a neat horror-drama, here, which can stand as a welcome alternation to your usual Japanese horror-stuff. However, the director couldn't exploit the full potential of "Inugami".

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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