After Sadako: Women in
“Everybody betrays me” (Miki Sakai, “Tomie
Re-Birth: Another Face”)
“Freeze Me” (2000)
Despite narrative similarities to “Ms. 45,”
Takashi Ishii’s story of highly personal vengeance is predominantly enacted
within the confines of a small apartment. “Chihiro” (Harumi Inoue)
is an office worker who is engaged to be married until she is visited by
the first of three men who had previously sexually assaulted her.
“Chihiro’s” painfully re-constituted life is brutally dislocated by this
intrusion. In short order she loses her safety, privacy, job, fiancé,
and eventually her sanity.
“Chihiro’s” solution to this nightmare involves
horrifyingly graphic bludgeoning of her assailants, after which she stores
their bodies in freezers. Unlike “Ms. 45” that launched its protagonist
on a campaign of generalized, anonymous retaliation, “Chihiro” becomes
increasingly absorbed by the trophies in her freezer, relishing her absolute
control over their inert, powerless forms. She periodically opens
the freezer doors to admire their contents rather than disposing of the
bodies. This arrangement works well enough as long as “Chihiro” remains
single. However, when her boyfriend eventually returns, he makes
a grisly discovery. Unfortunately for him, he fails to appreciate
the extent of “Chihiro’s” transformation and fatally misjudges her newfound
power and decisiveness.
Along with several other Ishii titles such as
“Black Angel” and “Flower and Snake,” “Freeze Me” treads uneasily along
the boundary of advocacy and exploitation. By so doing, these films
constitute a type of violation of genre boundaries, and may comment on
ordinarily unspoken assumptions about genre and the nature of viewing pleasure.
“Ring 0: Birthday” (2000)
Screenwriter Hiroshi Takahashi, director Norio
Tsuruta, and actor Yukie Nakama craft a subtle portrayal of the horror
of estrangement within a culture that may hammer down “the nail that sticks
up.” In this exposition of “Sadako’s” backstory, her efforts at a
normal life are repeatedly doomed by premonitions and visions of disaster.
Fate is aligned against her, from her crazy mother “Shizuko,” to a reporter
“Akiko Miyaji” (Yoshiko Tanaka) who relentlessly pursues her.
“Sadako” is withdrawn from a private school after
predicting a particularly awful drowning tragedy. She is kept in
locked isolation by her father who both loves her and understands her fatal
potential. As a painfully shy and awkward young woman, “Sadako” attempts
to find a place for herself by joining a theater company. There she
finds the possibility of romance, but thereby also attracts the jealousy
of another young woman, “Estsuko Tachihara” (Kumiko Aso) who is responsible
for the wardrobe. The play’s director recognizes “Shizuko’s” potential
powers and casts her in a leading role, but this only increases the hostility
of other members of the company. When “Sadako” is overtaken by her
feelings – provoked by her very attempts at negotiating the pitfalls of
a normal social life – others begin to die in mysterious ways. With
reporter “Akiko’s” prompting, “Etsuko” and other cast members turn against
“Sadako” and finally beat her to death.
At “Akiko’s” suggestion they transport “Sadako’s”
body to her father’s remote rural residence where “Sadako’s” remarkable
regenerative powers permit one last attempt to escape. The theater
troupe, however, relentlessly pursues her to the very edge of an ocean
cliff, driving her to the brink of desperation. Energized by her
mother “Shizuko’s” dark spirit, “Sadako” uncomprehendingly turns on them,
killing them one by one. Her broken, monstrous persona – aptly still
clad in the white shroud-like costume from the play – pursues “Akiko” and
“Etsuko” to an abandoned residence. A Nambu pistol so confidently
wielded by “Akiko” only proves useful to shoot “Etsuko” and then herself
in a moment of abject terror.
After everyone has died, “Sadako’s” father concludes
that he must kill her to prevent yet others from dying by contact with
his daughter. He poisons her, then batters her head with a chopper,
before casting his daughter into the eternal darkness of an old well.
The fact that he so clearly regrets these acts of brutal violence only
amplifies the pathos of “Sadako’s” backstory.
This moving, poignant film resonates to so many
themes of Japanese culture – traditional and contemporary – that can perhaps
be read as emblematic of J-Horror’s universe of social discourse.
Takashi Miike crafts a deceptively innocuous,
languid story of a middle-aged widower (Ryo Ishibashi) who is persuaded
by his film producer friend to screen young women as potential dates by
staging a fake audition. Many applicants essentially abase themselves
in apparently desperate pursuit of opportunity and acceptance, and in an
ironic coincidence, Ishibashi’s character “Aoyama” bears the same name
as that of the sexual predator who pursued Okiku to her death in the well
in the classic ghost story enacted in Kabuki.
After seemingly finding the perfect candidate
in the demure, willowy “Asami” (Eihi Shiina), “Aoyama’s” comfortable expectations
of gratification are shatteringly destabilized as he becomes the latest
victim of “Asami’s” serial counter-aggression against men. Part of
the shock involves the sudden betrayal of carefully built-up patriarchal
assumptions involving power and privilege, ending in a cruelly helpless
finale on the floor of “Aoyama’s” living room as “Asami” dons her mortician’s
apron and sets to work on him. In the course of this, she maintains
the cheerful demeanor of Yamato nadeshiko (the ideal Japanese woman), that
so attracted “Aoyama” in the first place. Ultimately, it is this
stereotype that is dissected along with Aoyama’s legs.
Gore From Outer Space (2001)
Hirohisa Sasaki’s bizarre confection of science
fiction, horror and edgy political satire is not as blatantly sexual or
exploitative as “Crazy Lips.” The film opens with the confession
of “Satomi Kurahashi” (Aimi Nakamura) who is awaiting execution for the
murder of her daughter. She recounts a seemingly delusional tale
of kidnapping that is doubted by the police and denied by her husband.
Guided by the headless spirits of murdered schoolgirls, “Satomi” eventually
traces the evidence of her daughter to a mysterious house whose occupants
might be her mother and a corrupt politician – or aliens in human form.
When this politician (representing “The Liberal King Party”) sexually assaults
her in the course of a trip to “West Virgin Town,” the narrative collapses
in on itself. Criticism of American history and culture returns in
the form of two absurd FBI agents who violate norms of politeness.
One of them recounts how his ex-girlfriend (Hitomi Miwa) was an alien,
and it emerges that “Satomi” was assaulted in order to breed an alien child.
This child “Misato” may have been “Satomi’s” older
sister who died years before in a fire. In the current narrative
“Satomi” douses “Misato,” her mother and the politician from “The Liberal
King” party in gasoline and sets them ablaze. Convicted of murder
and sentenced to die, “Satomi” is escorted to the death chamber where she
is confronted by the female psychic “Etsuko Mamiya” who is now the warden
attired in a Nazi-like uniform ready to gas her in front of the Japanese
prime minister! When “Satomi” realizes that her own government is
her real enemy and fights back, the “English gas” is released, along with
martial arts mayhem.
After escaping into the woods, “Satomi” is confronted
by the spirit of her mother who throws away her crucifix and sings a song
about parents killing their children. “Satomi” rejects this all as
both a lie and an alien plot. After running into the road she is
killed by a taxi, then reincarnated as a spider so that she can observe
her ex-husband with their daughter and his new wife.
Scriptwriter Hiroshi Takahashi claims inspiration
from “The Mothman Prophecies,” “Faust” and Yukio Mishima’s novel “Utsukushii
Hoshi” in which people are driven mad by UFOs.