Shikoku Review

When children's author, Masako Bando wrote Shikoku she probably didn't expect it to be adapted into a film at some point but in 1999 it was, following on from a successful year in Japanese horror. Like with most adaptations certain liberties are taken and in the case of Shikoku too many it would seem.

Shikoku meaning "four lands" (depending on the kanji used it can also mean "land of the dead") derives from Japan's fourth largest island in southern Honshu - a Shinto based province famed for its 88 Temple circuit that tours the entire four prefectures. Japanese saint, Kobo Daishi had founded the Shingon Buddhist sect in 807, whose rituals largely dealt with mysticism and here he selected the 88 Temples that make up the journey. In the years since his death the circuit has become a very popular tourist attraction, taking roughly 2 months to get around by foot. Thus ends my public service contribution.

Fifteen years since leaving her hometown for Tokyo, Hinako (Yui Natsukawa) returns to Shikoku so that she can sell the house once belonging to her family. When she is invited to a local festival she learns that her childhood friend, Sayori drowned at the age of sixteen in the same river that she once saved Hinako from. During the festival Hinako runs into best friend Fumiya (Michitaka Tsutsui) who has never fully gotten over the death of his girlfriend and whose presence he feels from time to time. Hinako learns that Sayori held resentment toward her for moving to Tokyo and realising the dreams that she had herself, before her passing. It isn't long before strange things begin to happen around the island, with the spirit of Sayori (Chiaki Kuriyama) walking amok and her mother undertaking the 88 Temple circuit - backwards!?!

It's not uncommon to see Japanese folklore, mysticism and spiritual beliefs make it into a lot of horror based films, least of all it isn't surprising to see it happen after the urban myths that surrounded some its earlier 90's school horror series and later Ringu franchises. The inherent problem with Shikoku is that despite what it might bill itself as it isn't a horror film as such but one founded on false pretences. Taking into account that the original novel was aimed at a slightly younger audience it's understandable that the film should take a different approach which is fine had it not been decided to market it differently. The story is more a light tale of romance with a dead person thrown in for good measure. What director, Shunichi Nagasaki thinks is decent horror is nothing more than the worst of what clichéd material can provide; hands coming up through water, green slime and some truly strange and cheap looking lighting which don't go so far as to even raise the slightest chill. Shikoku moves at such a lethargic pace, which outstays its 100-minute run time that had it been primarily more refined as a love story it might have been a little more enjoyable, but being far too determined to mix its mythology with paranormal influence it borders on an ill conceived convention when it comes to adapting for the big screen.

Matters aren't helped when the main cast struggle to work as well as could be expected with material that is quite poor which misses Masako Bando's input. Natsukawa does what she can, as does Tsutsui but all too often they fumble their way through the film, taking part in some awkward scenes that disrupt the flow and end up making the viewer question more of its values. It is here that Chiaki Kuriyama takes her first major starring role as Sayori but for those of you expecting any raw intensity off the back of Kill Bill you won't find much in her performance. Kuriyama walks sloth-like around the woods of Shikoku, talking like a child before attempting to raise a pedantic debate between herself and her old friends in a role that wouldn't convince anyone of her acting skills. At the end of it all there isn't anything to like about these characters; after so much time is spent in trying to flesh them out we never really learn anything.

Shikoku's only saving grace is that it is filmed on location in the quaint province. There's enough authenticity which should have been capitalized on more greatly, rather than take a select few areas and do little with them but there are times when we are treated to some lovely scenery. This doesn't stop Nagasaki from trying to drown out the natural colours with some overly harsh lighting that doesn't make the film any more chilling, just all the more annoying. Still there are moments when this works briefly, not to create any kind of purposeful atmosphere but just that we get the kind of shots that would look nice in a holiday photo.


Ventura International brings us a respectable release of the film, which although light on extras the overall presentation is of a good standard.


Shikoku is presented in an anamorphic ratio of 1.85:1 and looks very pleasing given its constraints. There's an overall softness inherent to the image which doesn't come as a shock though it's questionable as to how dark this is supposed to look. Night scenes fare well but daytime shots don't appear to be as natural looking, with very dark greens and flesh tones. Image detail is satisfactory and the various sources of light used, from white strobe effects to red, green and yellow kaleidoscopic weirdness stands up well.

Sound wise we get a choice of Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 and DTS 5.1. It's nice to see Ventura include the intended DTS option as it is clearly the better of the two. While the film never reaches any great dramatic heights the surrounds are put to good use, with the atmospheric night time sequences coming though best of all. Howling winds and various tricks used for scare tactics are finely separated, creating a track that deserves a better film. Also included is a set of excellent English subtitles which can be removed if you so desire.

Extra Features

Original theatrical trailers for Shikoku, Isola, Inugami and Shadow of the Wraith - all part of Ventura's line up.

Behind the Scenes (3.24)
Presented in full screen and with optional English subtitles, this takes us behind the scenes of the confrontation between Hinako, Sayori and Fumiya. Director, Nagasaki is shown working with his actors and getting them ready for their positions but there isn't much here of interest.

Interviews with Shunichi Nagasaki, Chiaki Kuriyama and Yui Natsukawa (9.31)
Again, presented in full screen with optional subtitles this series of interviews can only be played as one feature. Nagasaki starts off by saying how certain things were difficult to translate onscreen, such as the character's feelings and the challenges that were posed for the actors. This doesn't stop him praising his actors, overdoing it for Kuriyama who clearly hadn't developed as an actress. Next up Kuriyama talks about her first major starring role, after starting off as a model. She talks about the character of Sayori being a strong young woman and how she tried to bring out this quality. She also speaks highly of her director who helped her greatly throughout production and the stress which entails from acting, when compared to modelling. Finally we hear from Natsukawa who believes that the film is more than a horror in that it explores feelings and relationships and dealing with loss. She talks about filming on location and how much fun it was being with the crew.


Shikoku doesn't break any new ground after its contemporaries and neither is it very entertaining. Its premise is interesting, the execution dire, making the film a lifeless effort which is stuck between a rock and a hard place, unable to make up its mind as to what it should be. It's not horrifying, nor is it romantically adept or meaningful and its spiritual ties are sorely wasted.

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