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Dark Tales of Japan (2006)
24th Mar 06
A bunch of not that scary Japanese TV stories.
Picture the scene if you will. It’s late at night and the last bus is just leaving the express tunnel between two suburban districts somewhere in downtown Osaka. The bus is empty except for the nervous bus driver and an old lady at the back dressed in traditional Japanese garb. It’s dark, and the old lady is acting a bit creepy, sidling up to the front to ask the driver a question. “Would you like to hear a scary story?” she asks politely? “What the hell do you think this is lady, the Twilight Zone movie or something?”
Of course, he doesn’t really say that. This being Japan, it being late and this lady looking a bit like a pale ghost causes him to freak out, because that’s what you do under those conditions in Japan. Yes, welcome to Dark Tales of Japan, another attempt to cash in on the abundant J-Horror TV scene, this time by Anchor Bay. And why not? I don’t blame them for releasing this anthology as someone was bound too at some point or another, I’m just a little disappointed that the final product isn’t as good as Scary True Stories, which is kind of the bench mark for a product like this. The problem too is many-fold. It’s a TV show so you don’t have much money, plus you’re probably going to shoot straight to video, so the quality is never going to be cinematic. Also, it is TV remember, so the gore involved has to be kept to a minimum. That means that to make this work it needs to rely on good writing and good acting, which is where Dark Tales of Japan strikes a seriously indifferent chord.
Here’s a quick run down of the stories.
Would You Like To Hear a Scary Tale? This is the story of the old lady on the bus freaking people out. She’s got the intro, the outro and a short interlude in the middle. None of them are scary, all of them are predictable and all in all it doesn’t really work. I mean, haunting a bus? Weird.
The Spiderwoman This is better, apparently the town of Ibaraki is being stalked at night by the mysterious Spiderwoman. A newspaper reporter and a journalist go to investigate and the results and quite unnerving and simultaneously ludicrous, if that’s at all possible.
Crevices Now you’re talking, this is easily the scariest story on the disc, no doubt due to the fact that this piece was lensed by Norio Tsuruta of Scary True Stories fame. A guy goes to visit his mate but finds the flat deserted. The landlord lets him in, only to discover that his mate has gone and taped up every single gap in his house (between carpets and walls, furniture and floor, windows, doors, you name it) with bright red masking tape. Why? What lives in these crevices? Oooh, creepy stuff, and raises the DVD's rating considerably.
The Sacrifice As a child, Mayu saw he grandmother being eaten by big giant ghost head – no shit too, you see it in a flashback. Anyway, as a grown up, when she hears her mother is ill she returns home at once, only to find her mother chanting like a mad woman, pretty much like her grandmother did all those years ago. Neither here nor there this one, and that giant head is a bit silly.
Blonde Kwaidan A Japanese guy goes to Hollywood and complains that all they make there are remakes of old films and J-Horror, then he goes to an apartment that he’s borrowed off a work colleague. It’s a shame he didn’t check under the bed for any dead blondes before he made himself comfortable though.
Presentiment A credit card company guy steals a copy of the customer database in a daring late night raid under the security cameras gaze, and then heads off to try and meet his lover, ignoring his wife’s calls in the process. But it all goes wrong and soon he finds himself stuck in an elevator with 3 very creepy looking people who just keep smiling at him in a strange way. A decent ending actually, miles better than the last couple of stories.
So there you have it, Dark Tales of Japan isn’t as good as Norio Tsuruta’s Scary True Stories, but it does have a couple of stand out tales that are generally unnerving. Whether this is the start of the J-Horror bubble bursting or not, who knows? Certainly the impact is less now, and as we westerners begin to accept the ways of eastern culture more, the impact of their alien ways and beliefs has undoubtedly lessened. But, looking on the Brightside, at least this anthology featured no black long haired freaks, and no school girls, so let’s be thankful for that. If you're looking for really scary Japanese horror though, I'd look elsewhere.
Versions Available on an Anchor Bay DVD in the UK now.