Terror has a new rabbit suit in Takashi Shimizu’s (Ju-On: The Grudge) collaboration with celebrated cinematographer Christopher Doyle (Hero, In The Mood For Love)…
After 10-year-old Diago (Takeru Shibuya, The Promised Land, Kaidan Horror Classics: ‘The Days After’) kills a sick rabbit in school playground where his sister works, he’s labelled a ‘rabbit killer’ by the school’s other kids.
Home schooled by his mute sister Kiriko (Hikari Mitsushima, Love Exposure, Sawako Decides, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai), Diago begins to see a mysterious figure in a rabbit suit after they go to see a horror film together (appropriately enough, Shock Labyrinth 3D) and a stuffed rabbit emerges from the screen and lands in his lap. Meanwhile their father (Teruyuki Kagawa, Key Of Life, Dreams For Sale, 20th Century Boys, Tokyo Sonata) is too wound up in his storybook illustrations of pop-up books to notice what’s going on…
I interviewed Takashi Shimizu in early 2011 for the UK release of Shock Labyrinth, and he was happy to talk about Tormented, then known as Rabitto horâ (which is exactly what it sounds like!). He explained, although not a sequel, the toy rabbit from the earlier film links the two, culminating in the same amusement park building.
It was obvious, however, that the thing that most seemed to excite him was the opportunity to work with Hikari Mitsushima and Teruyuki Kagawa. And therein lies one of the great strengths of the film: for the first time in several of Shimizu’s movies we actually get characters that we can care about. (Even if Mitsushima doesn’t actually get the chance to talk – except in voiceover. No, I’m not quite sure how that works either.)
Somewhere in our shared psyche we seem to find the giant-size rabbit truly unsettling.(1) From Alice in Wonderland to Donnie Darko’s (mainly benign) rabbit figure, but if this is Alice’s White Rabbit, he’s chasing us this time…
Shimizu builds on this motif well, showing us a friendly rabbit suit one minute, and a blinking, whisker twitching more real looking (and truly menacing) man-size bunny the next. There are some effective scares to be had, but this often seems more ‘quirky’ than ‘scary’. Shimizu’s afore-mentioned tendency to play with perceived reality – perhaps his strongest quality – starts to erode the audience allegiances with characters.
Elsewhere his self-reference – though initially fun – risks parodying himself and other familiar J-horror motifs. The ghostly goings on in the attic (why do people always go and investigate odd noises?), the quick growing, grabbing (black) hair, it’s all rather familiar. It’s almost like a ‘best of’ package of some of Shimizu’s previous work.
That he uses the same building as Shock Labyrinth for the finale (even referencing that it became part of an amusement park in a post-title credit), it seems ill fitting and perhaps even a little lazy. Somehow it just lacks the punch you’d expect from a climax, leaving you just a bit unsatisfied.
For many, it’s the collaboration with Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle that will intrigue them more than Shimizu’s work, and undeniably the films visual merits outweigh the narrative. Doyle of course became well known for his work with Wong Kar-wai, helping the director find his trademark style. It’s hard not to instantly picture those fluorescent-lit scenes of Days Of Being Wild or In The Mood For Love, like a modern day Caravaggio; and his influence both on other cinematographers and in other fields such as fashion and advertising photography can hardly be emphasised enough.
Away from Kar-wai, his filmography is beyond impressive. In Asia he has worked with directors of the calibre of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Last Life in the Universe, Invisible Waves), Zhang Yimou (Hero), Stanley Kwan (Red Rose White Rose), Chen Kaige (Temptress Moon), Peter Chan (Three: ‘Going Home’) and Fruit Chan (Dumplings). Outside his collaborators include Phillip Noyce (Rabbit Proof Fence, The Quiet American) and Gus Van Sant (Psycho). Kar-wai’s former DP on As Tears Go By, Andrew Lau, even enlisted him as ‘visual consultant’ on Infernal Affairs.
More recently he collaborated with Shinji Imaoka on Underwater Love, a quirky pink film (Japanese film with adult content). And now a 3D film? You can’t help but think that Doyle has tried hard to shrug off the heftier, more art house side of his filmography in search of something, well, a bit less serious…?
Giving him a chance to dabble in 3D, the film has as distinctive a look as you could wish from Doyle (though you can’t help but worry that much of the effect would be lost in 2D). It’s easily Shimizu’s best looking film to date, but that’s not to suggest Doyle’s dazzling visuals gets in the way of his horror. By Shimizu’s account, the working relationship was quite strained between them, but he paid Doyle the (backhanded) compliment that “if any one understood our intentions — or more to the point, felt them — it was probably Chris, the Troublesome but Refined Old Bastard.”
Doyle uses the technique well, his very stylised take on 3D once again putting him a little ahead of the curve and matching the twisted reality of Shimizu’s story. But the lasting impression may well be the roughly made but quite intricate pop-up books Kiriko’s father creates. Quite beautiful, especially seen opening on screen in full three-dimensional space, they’re almost an unintentional metaphor for the attraction of 3D in popular culture.
With appropriate timing, Doyle recently launched into a diatribe against Life Of Pi’s Oscar for cinematography, his point being that so much CGI negates any presumed talent or accomplishment as DP. (His exact words were ‘Fucking insult to cinematography’. Not exactly fair, at least as a criticism of Life Of Pi. And he hates Lincoln too!)
A quirky, fun horror that might not be perfect, but well worth checking out… your lasting impression may be wanting to get hold of those pop-up books!
Tormented 3D played as part of the 5th Pan-Asia Film Festival.
(1) Meaning this years Hotel Chocolat Easter campaign really doesn’t work for me!
easternKicks contributor Things Fall Apart’s review can be found here.