Tuesday, August 9, 2011

In short: Kazuo Umezu's Horror Theater: Snake Girl (2005)

aka The Harlequin Girl (yeah, I don't know either)

Original title: Umezu Kazuo: Kyofu gekijo - Madara no shojo

After a teacher at her school was murdered by a student, the mother of teenager Yumiko (Arisa Nakamura), decides that it would be best to have Yumiko spend the next school holidays with relatives in the country to distract her from what happened.

Alas, when Yumiko arrives, things aren't as good as one would hope. Her uncle and her aunt don't even bother to pick her up at the train station, and once Yumiko has found her way to their home, they are acting distant and would really prefer her to be not there at all. The only ray of light for Yumiko is her cousin Kyoko (Ruriko Narumi), who is all sugary sweetness.

Kyoko explains the behaviour of her parents with a prophecy made by the local shaman about a snake bringing doom when a strange girl will come to town. In combination with quite a lot of snake-based superstition, that's the sort of thing bound to make relatives unfriendly.

Things become even tenser for Yumiko once Kyoko and she go to the shaman's house to find out what's actually up with all that snake business: Kyoko disappears to nowhere, while a snake woman attacks Yumiko. Let's hope her bite is infectious enough to spare us  the twenty minutes of mawkishness that follow.

When Noboru Iguchi, one of my favourite contemporary directors of Japanese weirdness, adapts the work of Kazuo Umezu, one of my favourite not quite as contemporary manga-ka, beautiful and strange things should result (and writer Chiaki Konaka is no slouch either). Instead, this episode of Kazuo Umezu's Horror Theatre is just really damn bad.

The short film's troubles are too numerous to go into them all, or else I'd spend a thousand annoyed words on writing up something that's not even an hour long while foaming at the mouth, so I'll only complain about the two most egregious ones.

Firstly, while I adore Iguchi's work, he's not at all the director to hire when you want anything even vaguely resembling subtlety. Iguchi is to subtlety what Ryuhei Kitamura is to the staging of dialogue scenes, so obviously letting him adapt a manga short that could only be saved from becoming cloyingly mawkish by the most subtle of directorial treatments leads directly to a catastrophic mess of kitsch, bad make-up effects and children saving other children from their hatred through the power of hugs and singing. Now, reading this, you might think - and I wouldn't blame you - that Iguchi's making fun of all the sugary sweetness, but if he does, he's showing it in a way absolutely identical to the thing he's making fun of.

The second factor of horrible badness, and just as bad as Iguchi's performance, is what goes for acting here. I'm perfectly willing to cut kid actors some slack, but what the two (and a half) lead actresses deliver here is the sort of thing I couldn't tolerate in a school play, much less in a supposedly professional (if cheap) film.

But I think I've kicked this particular dead pig enough already, so I'll just stop and go cry bitter tears of disappointment about the wasted opportunity Snake Girl presents.


No comments: