Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ero Kowai Kaidan Vol. 2 - Poltergeist (2010)

College student Maiko (Shelley Fujii) is run over by a car while crossing the street, which seems to be the sort of thing that happens when one is more interested in one's cellphone than in one's surroundings. She doesn't seem too badly hurt, but once she is released from hospital, the young woman begins to have the mandatory strange experiences.

The rather nice kick in the head has given Maiko the ability to see the ghosts spooking all around her. After a bit of panicking, our heroine has a little talk with the woman who paints her "past life picture", and is therefore an expert on all things spiritual. The woman's recommendation is for Maiko to just ignore the ghosts and continue living as before, but the spirited young woman decides to ignore such a boring proposition and help the ghosts solve their various problems. Just like on TV.

At first, things go well: a college friend is healed from his ghost-induced backaches and the killer of a family of three is apprehended with Maiko's help. Alas, things get a bit out of control once our heroine makes contact with a poltergeist who has been hanging around her all the time. The deader shows itself to be prone to sexual assaults and other highly unpleasant activities. After a little research, this behaviour fits perfectly to the ghost's back story, for he turns out to be a mass rapist and murderer who was lynched by angry villagers after a night of carnage. The ghost also happens to be what Maiko's psychic painter friend paints as the girl's earlier incarnation.

Now, it seems as if it were high time for an exorcism, but there are still two twist endings to come.

It might sound a bit strange given the usual cheapness and ugliness of many of his films, but to me, Poltergeist's director Naoyuki Tomomatsu is one of the true auteurs working in the gravitational fields of pinku, violent exploitation and the weird in Japan today.

Though Tomomatsu's films nearly always struggle visibly with the restrictions of their budgets, they also show a director obsessed with pondering his favourite philosophical questions in his movies, questions like the nature of free will and human identity, not caring that he's producing cheap filler material for low-level DVD labels.

Poltergeist clearly isn't one of Tomomatsu's more successful efforts, in part because the director doesn't really manage to unite the erotic (which, in this case, means "containing a bit more nudity than strictly necessary and having a very silly rough ghost sex scene") ghost story the series he's working in wants him to tell with the weird and slightly annoying double twist ending and his own philosophical concerns.

Instead, Tomomatsu has produced a film that jumps from cheap scares, to the shower, to POV-scenes of the heroine holding monologues of skewed philosophy into her cellphone, to squirt-y ghost sex scenes with the random abandon of a rather peculiar dream, until it tries to explain all its weird flaws away by actually explaining everything that happened as the dreams of a woman who has been lying in a coma for three years. Which certainly is something, though neither what Tomomatsu is going for, nor very good exploitation cinema.

The other reason - beside it not being all that much of a movie - why Poltergeist stays interesting but also unsatisfying is the abhorrent quality of the film's actors. There's a frightening awkwardness surrounding every single performance here (even the ghost actors share that trait), with nobody able to even emote the straightest feelings the least bit convincingly, and obviously even less able to cope with Tomomatsu's discussions of the construction of identity and the ghost hunter fame of Thomas Edison.

It's a bit of a shame, really, because I could see myself being a bit more excited about Poltergeist despite its flaws if it had been acted professionally.


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