Saturday, April 10, 2010

In short: Ghost Train (2006)

School girl Nana (Erika Sawajiri) is just about to end her high school life and go to study abroad at the Miskatonic University(!). It seems as if there's just an ill, hospital-bound mother and the finals standing between her and living through the collected works of H.P. Lovecraft. Go Nana!

Until, that is, her little sister Noriko disappears without so much as a trace. Nana's sister is not the only one who disappeared or died under mysterious circumstances in the last few weeks. A female ghost haunts a local subway station, dropping cursed tickets and jewellery only to then demand them back in lethal fashion. There's also some business about ghosts looking like the disappeared going around and terrorizing their relatives.

Together with young subway train conductor Shunichi who was transferred into the lost property office for seeing one ghost too many, her cursed classmate Kanae and a ghost-damaged woman called Kumi (Aya Sugimoto, seemingly the only actual actress on screen here, and therefore of course only in a cameo role), Nana tries to understand the reason for the increasingly mysterious haunting, in the hope to get her lost sister back.

By all rights, this should be a much better film than it actually is. All the elements that should make for a creepy horror film with a strong thematic line about family love and the troubles with it are there for the right director to use.

Unfortunately, Takeshi Furusawa isn't the right director for the material. Where emotional subtlety would be needed, he goes for daytime soap operatics; where the supernatural should be strange and uncomfortable, he goes for the conventional and the silly.

It doesn't help the film any that the acting is exceedingly poor. Erika Sawajiri is not someone able to shoulder the weight of a film, much less make the melodramatics believable, and the rest of the young cast isn't any better. Aya Sugimoto (fully clothed, for once) is of course much more convincing, but her presence just makes her co-actors seem even worse.

Under normal circumstances, that would be all that needed to be said about Ghost Train, but the film's final third contains at least three surprisingly effective moments, moments that fit the rest of the film so little that I am at a loss to explain how they got in there. Especially the big finale in which Nana finds an older tunnel hidden away in the subway that contains an odd place of obviously cultish use and a virtual hill of dead bodies is quite remarkable, even though Furusawa does his best to ruin the excellent work of his production designer with further melodramatics. This and the following scene where our heroine is hunted by a tunnel full of crawling (on the ground and the ceiling) dead people, are fulfilling the Lovecraftian promise the sweet words "Miskatonic University" made at least a little. It's just too bad about everything else in the movie.

This is by far not enough to let me recommend Ghost Train with a clean conscience, but it is proof that sometimes even the least successful horror films can contain a few scenes that are worthwhile.

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