Saturday, November 26, 2011

In short: Prayer Beads (2004)

A woman and her imaginary children take bitter vengeance on the friend who slept with her husband. A vending machine in the country is the source of a very special soft drink. A doctor takes a drug that lets him see the worms and tentacles that are really inside of people. A creepy anime character fulfils wishes in a variation of the story of the monkey's paw. Two elderly espers hunt down and explode the killer of their granddaughter.

These and other stories belong to the Japanese nine-part horror anthology series Prayer Beads. Most of the episodes are written and directed by a certain Masahiro Okano, who also has a "supervised by" credit. Okano seems to exclusively work for Japanese TV, so info about him or what else he did is hard to find on the Western internet. It is pretty clear, though, that he has extensive knowledge of all the horror clichés you'd find in this type of anthology show, and is not ashamed of using them.

The episodes are shot in the somewhat raw and cheap looking style typical of contemporary Japanese TV. Okano and the other directors do their best to use this rawness to give most of the episodes an immediacy that is making it much easier to swallow the sillier of the stories. In a few episodes, there are pretty effective attempts at producing a more dream-like feel and pacing through the magic of weird and fast editing and colour filters, or by going the extra mile and actually creating cheap animation for the anime-themed episode. This sort of thing doesn't let the show's budget look more impressive on screen, but it demonstrates an interest in the details and a willingness to experiment that makes it difficult to argue against a show this visibly putting an extra effort in.

Tonally, Prayer Beads is all over the place. Some episodes are examples of earnest yet weird character psychology-based horror, while others, like the vending machine episode or the mushroom hunt story, seem to exist mostly to set up a rubbery gore gag, which in case of the vending machine story is absolutely worth it. The show isn't at all timid when it comes to the rubbery gore anyhow - generally, Okano seems to belong to the school of Japanese horror that just loves to put improbable explosions of red and gooey stuff on screen, at least as far as the TV budget and TV morals allow.

All in all, Prayer Beads is worth watching. There's nothing sensational or original about the show, but it's clear that its producers have their hearts in the right places and know how to have fun with the traditions of the horror genre.


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