Spring is here, the birds are singing, and the weather is (slowly but surely) getting nicer. And you know what that means: time to pull the curtains, turn out the lights, and scare ourselves silly.
Just because we’re half a year away from the Scary Season doesn’t mean there’s isn’t time for some freak-outs. And if you’re a fan of gory, psychological Japanese horror, there’s plenty waiting for you in the depths of Shudder and the other channels on VRV. We’ve plumbed the depths of the catalog to find just a few freakishly fun offerings to get your spine tingling.
Noriko’s Dinner Table: A Coming-of-Age Story
If you’ve seen Suicide Club (known as Suicide Circle in Japan), you probably had a few questions after viewing it. Fortunately, the filmmakers were aware of this, and released Noriko’s Dinner Table four years later to tie up some loose ends. But even if you’re not familiar with the original film, this movie stands alone as a creepy tale of growing up and finding your identity in the early days of modern internet culture.
Noriko feels estranged from her reporter father, Tetsuzo, and finds comfort on the website Haikyo.com. Between her discussions with another user named “Ueno Station 54” and an encounter with a former classmate, she resolves to run away to Tokyo to make a better life for herself. But upon meeting Ueno54 — named Kumiko — things start going a little out of control.
For one thing, Noriko (now going by the name Mitsuko) finds herself in a company that rents its workers out as fake family members, so that lonely clients can live out domestic fantasies. For another, in a move that will be familiar to Suicide Club fans, 54 girls throw themselves off a train station platform. Once Noriko’s sister Yuka follows in her footsteps, Tetsuzo puts his reporting skills to work to get to the bottom of their disappearance, the suicides, and Haikyo.com.
There’s a lot to unravel in Noriko’s Dinner Table. What Kumiko is up to, how the deaths link back to her organization, and what — if anything — the “suicide club” is. If you’ve seen Suicide Circle you already know the answer, but the events of the film lend depth and clarity to the issues. And we see just how deep the organization’s roots run… and what its members will do to satisfy a client.
Noriko’s Dinner Table is largely introspective and rarely action-packed, and it goes off on tangents that will require your full attention. It’s also a long watch, clocking in at over two and a half hours. But if you’re a fan of Suicide Club, or if you’re a fan of character studies and psychology in film, it’s time well spent.
The Guard from Underground: Simple and Mean
Japanese horror fans may already be familiar with director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. He’s worked in a variety of genres, but keeps coming back to horror with titles like Retribution, Cure, and Pulse. If you want a serious throwback, though, give The Guard from Underground a look.
This slasher horror flick isn’t terribly deep plot-wise, even with its talk of art dealing and big business. We follow Narushima, an employee stepping into a new company on the same day as a mysterious security guard. Meanwhile, a murderous sumo wrestler (yes, you read that right) is on the loose — and she has reason to believe that the murderer and the guard are one and the same. Her suspicions become more and more believable as she finds herself and fellow employees being targeted by him.
The Guard from Underground is obviously low-budget, but it’s impressive for what it is. The gore isn’t especially heavy, save for one of the more gruesome murders. And that’ll make you never want to risk getting shut in a locker ever again. I’ll leave it at that.
Sadako vs. Kayako: The Moment You’ve Been Waiting For
This match-up of the century was originally teased as an April Fool’s joke. But the joke was on us — Sadako vs. Kayako was all too real, and it brought Japanese horror’s two most terrifying ladies face-to-face for a literal grudge match.
Now, cards on the table. It takes a while for Sadako and Kayako to end up in the same room as each other. The majority of the movie is setup for the pair’s respective curses, with slightly more focus (okay, a lot more focus) on Sadako and her cursed video. But the time taken means a lot of tweaking and primping done to the story of The Ring to make it function in the modern day, answering questions such as “How does Sadako keep cursing people in a post-VHS society?” and “Couldn’t she save time by cutting seven days down to two?” and “What if her victim just tries to kill themselves before their time is up?”
The film functions on the idea that neither Sadako nor Kayako is willing to let a kill go. And so, in order to save each ghost’s current victim, a pair of supernatural investigators decides to have the victims double-dip and get cursed by both ghosts. Theoretically, the ghosts will fight each other over the victims, destroying each other in the process. Does it work? Well, that’s up to you to find out. But this definitely falls in the category of Whoever Wins, We Lose fights.
Sadako vs. Kayako is perfect for when you need something crazy and spooky on at night. The plot is fairly straightforward, and while it isn’t high art, it doesn’t need to be. It’s fun and weird and creepy. And it’s also reminded us why we were suddenly so terrified of hair back in 2002.
Kara Dennison is responsible for multiple webcomics, and is half the creative team behind the OEL light novel series Owl’s Flower. She blogs at karadennison.com and tweets @RubyCosmos. Her work can currently be read in Stranger Tales of the City from Obverse Books.