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Thursday, October 01, 2009

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Noroi: The Curse (2005)
Dir. Kôji Shiraish
Film: ***1/2
Fright level: 7/10
Scare Structure: The Slow Burn
Subgenre: found tape, vengeful spirit/demon.

For most film people, or at least those in academic circles, Found Footage films are films made up of footage which is found then repositioned into a new work. In lay terms it refers to a film like Blair Witch, where a "found" tape is the basis for the film (I'll arbitrarily call these "found tape films"). However, Noroi is in both senses a found footage film. It's not only the footage left behind, but rather a documentary which include the found tape but also footage from the news, reality shows, interviews, ethnographic film, and home video. In this way, it feels formally a bit like The Last Broadcast. Only that was a film essay on the ethics of documentary exploitation, just as Cannibal Holocaust, the earliest found tape I am aware of, was a heavy handed condemnation of American academics who arrogantly thought they understood where they were venturing.

Noroi has no greater socio-political objective (though you could argue that all of these found tape films fit into a larger fundamental spark in horror fiction, from Oedipus to Lovecraft, where there is forbidden knowledge, and that knowledge either comes with a heavy price, or we may not be ready for what we find out). It wants to creep you out, and it does. This is the best kind of horror film. The jump fright works for half a second, then is followed by laughter. This is a slow build up of unnerving and seemingly disconnected events which undercut your sense of spectatorial safety at every turn. What this film does, that perhaps only Cloverfield has successfully done, is give us a found tape film with multi-faceted characters. Hori san the psychic who has to battle both literal and his own personal mental demons, Mika the aspiring television actress who has unwittingly become involved in all of these events are two standouts, and Kobayashi, the protagonist, is a patient and almost too trusting supernatural investigator. This makes the inevitable turn of the knife, so to speak, all the more disturbing.

The film also features one of the more complex, if not the most complex plot of any found tape film. It's an epic, comparatively, in its breadth. The meat of the story is patiently developed, all the while elements which come into play and explain things throughout the film, are occurring; this is one of the few horror films where its not surprise, but rather the remembering of something you initially threw out, that really gets to you. The ambiguity of the film is another strong point.

The essential story of the film is that Kobayashi is investigating a woman who is complaining of baby noises coming from her neighbor's house. After a series of events Kobayashi begins to suspect an ancient demon called Kagutaba. One of the things I admire most of contemporary Japanese cinema is the ability to throw in ancient icons effortlessly, whether in films like The Greayt Yokai War, or the films of Miyazaki, without having to go into a long explanation. And for me the most effective footage is the ethnographic footage of an old ceremony.

One of the weaknesses of the film is the use of a musical score in the last third. Until that point, this was a pretty quiet film, and that uncertainty of expectation really strengthened by no musical cues. The music seems unnecessary. That said the film is extremely clever, showcases excellent mobile framing and use of space within a shot. The acting is mixed, but not ever enough to really take you outside of the "reality" aesthetic.









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