Eko Eko Azarak - The Dark Angel Trilogy
Robert Winter on March 10, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Eastern Eye (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 2.0, English DD 2.0 (Misa the Dark Angel only). English Subtitles. 253 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Shimako Sato/Katsuhito Ueno
Starring: Kimika Yoshino, Hinako Saeki, Miho Kanno, Shu-Ma, Wataru Shihodo, Chieko Shiratori
Screenplay: Junki Takegami/Shimako Sato
Music: Mikiya Katakura/Daisuke Suzuki
Country: Japan
Year: 1995/1996/1998

Eko Eko Azarak,
Eko Eko Zomelak,
Eko Eko Cernunnos,
Eko Eko Aradia,

An Invocation of the Consort chant used by witches to summon the Devil.

Carol Clover in her insightful book Men, Women and Chainsaws explores the appearance of the "last girl standing" in the narrative of many contemporary horror films. Citing the highly successful Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, she discusses the heroic rise of the insecure girl-next-door as an antidote to the passive victim/damsel-in-distress thematic historically inherent in most horror movies. By the final reel the "last girl standing" has managed to survive potent evil forces to evolve into a stronger, more confident liberated scream queen, while her male companions have been made into slasher fodder. The Eko Eko Azarak trilogy is a quirky J-horror/Western hybrid of one such young woman's journey to self-awareness.

Volume 1 – Wizard of Darkness

When Misa Kuroi (Kimika Yoshino) arrives at a new school, she is met at the gate by a lecherous male teacher who brazenly touches young girls in inappropriate ways before letting them pass. Much to the delight of her school friends, Misa uses some dark power to give the dirty old a man a nasty dose of diarrhea. However, more insidious forces are at work - the teacher ends up being killed and Misa confesses to her school friends that she is cursed and "people around me die." No one really believes her until 13 of her school chums are kept back after school to re-take a test and become victims of a powerful entity.

Volume 2 – Birth of the Wizard

Following a gory flash-back sequence where we learn a little more about Misa's personal odyssey, our long-suffering witchette is back at a new school and being hunted by an ancient Saigan spirit. The demon has the ability to body hop and those possessed crush heads and slit throats in an attempt to gain access to Misa. Fortunately, a mysterious young warlock comes to her aid and they join forces to try and stop it from fulfilling its mission.

Volume 3 – Misa the Dark Angel

Our cursed heroine returns as a much more confident mistress of the dark arts. Once again, where she goes trouble follows, and in this installment Misa must battle trans-dimensional flesh-eating zombies to save her fellow drama students from an unpleasant fate.

It's fascinating to see how contemporary Japanese horror directors absorb and interpret genre elements from other cultures into their dark imaginings. While Western audiences have felt the chill of the vengeful female Onryō through films like The Ring and The Grudge, female Director Shimako Sato moves away from more traditional leanings and posits that you don't have to become a bitter spirit to resolve your mortal exploitation.

The first Volume revels in the type of low-budget slasher aesthetic that would carve a wry smile on the rotting face of Mrs Pamela Voorhees. Like the teens in the isolated backwoods of Camp Crystal Lake, the students are trapped in a school building after-hours with no means of escape. One by one they are picked off in a variety of gruesome ways. The set-pieces are cheap but nasty, while the odd Argento-inspired sweeping camera flourish, tense atmosphere and Euro-style lesbian sex scenes add some spice to a standard dish.

Volume two is arguably the best in the series. Filmed as a prequel to Volume one, the narrative focus here is on back-story and characterisation. Whilst the gory moments are better integrated into the plot, it's the relationship between the warlock and Misa that shines. The characters appear less comic-strip representations and more emotionally attuned with the circumstances in which they are confronted.

Unfortunately the third Volume is a bit of a mess. What could have been an engaging finale of Buffy-esque proportions steeped in Lovecraftian mythology, actually turns out to be a fizzer. An overabundance of voyeuristic soft-focus close-ups and slow-motion camera pans across nubile teenage bodies often causes the narrative to grind to a halt. Although the intention may have been to demonstrate the impending violation of beauty and innocence, these sequences drip like a paedophilic wet-dream. Worse still, the pacing is agonisingly slow, editing sloppy and the creepy plot devices loom in the distance but rarely come to forefront and grab you by the jugular. A few inspiring moments occur in the last 20-minutes, but overall this is a disappointing entry.

If the low IMBD rating is anything to go by, then it appears they didn't get it right in Volume four either. This is a shame because with a little more care the continuing adventures of the cursed witch called Misa has the potential to be so much more than the sum of its parts.
Video
Each transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and all are 16x9 enhanced.

Softness, edge-enhancement, darkness and poor shadow detail plague each print. I often found myself peering into the gloom straining to make out what was going on. Volume three is particularly bad as much of the action takes place at night or in a low-lit environment.

The optional English subtitles are presented as yellow text and easy to read against any colour background.
Audio
The audio fares much better than the video presentation. The Japanese 2.0 stereo surround sound bursts out through centre channels, while some discrete creepy ambient noises are given rear separation.

Although some of the score sounded like it would have been more at home in a Playstation 2 Final Fantasy adventure, it still serves the purpose of setting the tone and carrying the narrative.

Oddly, Volume three contains an additional English dub mix which has to be heard to be believed.
Extra Features
The first two Volumes contain a Making of featurette which are mostly run-of-the-mill 17-minute fly-on-the-wall takes on how some sequences were set up. These are interrupted occasionally by talking head interviews with cast and crew. They finish with a brief cast chat at their respective theatrical premieres.

Interestingly, in the Making of found on Volume one, the two actresses referred to their intimate lesbian scenes as rape, at least according to the subtitles. However, these scenes looked consensual to me, so perhaps the term "lesbian sex scenes" got lost in translation from Japanese to English.

The original two-minute promotional trailers and trailers from other Madman films grace each of the three discs, while Volume three contains a bonus stills gallery.
The Verdict
The Eko Eko Azarak trilogy is a bold, yet uneven attempt at capturing the dark undercurrent of the original popular 70s Manga comic by Shinichi Koga. Although at times quite tense and grotesque, I couldn't help but feel that the best elements from Volumes one and three could have been incorporated into Volume two to create a minor classic.
Movie Score
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