Dark Tales of Japan Review

Dark Tale of Japan is a DV-shot, TV-produced effort from 2004. Like many horror films before it, the format is that of the anthology or portmanteau. Five directors were brought in and five individual parts were the result, plus an intermittent framing device concentrating on an old woman – perhaps a ghost – who boards a late night bus and asks: “Do you want to hear a scary story?” From a UK perspective only two of these filmmakers have seen their work released beforehand: Norio Tsuruta, who had previously helmed Ring 0: Birthday; and Takashi Shimizu who has worked, and continues to work, on various permutations of his original The Grudge - sequels, remakes, sequel remakes even. That said, previous experience would appear to count for very little. Dark Tales of Japan isn’t the place to find a distinctive or two, rather it offers up five efforts of very little interest.

Oddly for an anthology collection there’s no sense of variation or a differing tone. Even those which have been directed by a single person in the past – the various Amicus’, for example, or the Creepshow movies – have generally strived for such a situation, balancing out the light and the dark. Yet here the only taste of variety comes down to whether each tale is dealing with a creature or a ghost. The first tale, entitled ‘The Spiderwoman’, has a half-woman, half-spider concoction as the title no doubt suggests. ‘Crevices’, the second, has ghosts appearing through various nooks, crannies and open drawers. ‘The Sacrifice’ blends the two with a Jabba the Hut-like apparition which eats its victims. ‘Blonde Kwaidan’ opts for an L.A. setting and thus goes for a blonde haired, all-American demon. And ‘Presentiment’ allows an entire family of ghosts to haunt a guilty office worker as he takes the elevator.

In all honesty, there’s little point in developing these synopses further as it’s unlikely that the tales could withstand it. Each begins with a clumsy piece of exposition, followed by some rudimentary plotting and ends with the inevitable, but ineffectual, pay-off. There’s no time to develop the material, nor indeed is the material there to begin with. ‘Crevices’ in particular is remarkably scant, lasting only ten minutes and as such amounting to very little. That said, the others (which stretch to 20 minutes on average) suffer from much the same problem. Each nods in the direction of a familiar device – ‘The Spiderwoman’ does urban legends, for example – or a previous movie – ‘Crevices’ steals greatly from Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse - but then does nothing else which is of consequence. Ultimately they’re too flimsy either to be interesting or, more pertinently, to scare.

However, it could be argued that some are unintentionally funny. Despite the array of filmmakers – some experienced, some less so – all come to make the exact same mistakes. In every single case we’re getting flat out bad filmmaking no matter what the calibre of its director may be: each tale is badly acted, punctuated by the most obvious of scoring and hideously over the top. Moreover, the DV cameras only seem to pick up on this even more, highlighting the inherent cheapness in the project and the more amateurish qualities. Indeed, ultimately we’re left feeling really quite embarrassed by it all: because it was made in the first place; for the filmmakers who’ve all decided to keep their names on the project; and for whoever it was who decided to bring this tawdry effort to the UK.

The Disc

Dark Tales of Japan comes to the UK DVD market as a Region 2 release courtesy of Anchor Bay. Presenting the film anamorphically at a ratio of 1.78:1, which is presumably as intended, this being a television production, the film comes across as well as could be expected. Of course, we’re dealing with digital video here and as such there are defects in the original image, but nothing which would appear to be the result of AB’s transfer. Much the same is also true of the soundtrack with the standard offering of DD2.0, DD5.1 and DTS mixes all demonstrating the same problems which are presumably inherent in the original production. The dialogue can come across as muffled at times and the clarity isn’t quite what you’d hope for, but it appears that little can be done to rectify it. In this case it’s the more expansive mixes – the DD5.1 and DTS offerings – which cope better and as such are the ones to go for. As for the extras here we find a 26-minute ‘making of’ which is disappointingly insubstantial. Essentially it amounts to nothing more than brief snippets or B-roll footage from the filming of each instalment and the framing device.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 06:11:15

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