Kyofu (2010)
By: Stuart Giesel on October 23, 2013 | Comments
Eastern Eye | Region 4, PAL | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | Japanese DD 5.1 | 90 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Kyofu DVD
Director: Hiroshi Takahashi
Starring: Yôko Chôsokabe, Mina Fujii, Momoko Hatano, Tomohiro Kaku, Nagisa Katahira
Screenplay: Hiroshi Takahashi
Country: Japan
Kyofu poses the question: "When does a film that tries to be intricate and mysterious simply wind up disappearing up its own arse?" Its answer is: "Pretty much right from the start". Unlike something deliberately enigmatic and defiantly strange from, say, David Lynch, Kyofu doesn't have much to back up the weird goings-on.

The film starts with a faux 16mm grainy black-and-white footage showing people being lobotomized for having "seen something". Then a white light envelops the screen, all whilst an old lady named Etsuko (Nagisa Katahira) is watching and, unbenownst to her, her two young daughters Miyuki and Kaori. Great parenting skills there, lady. "A-ha!" you might exclaim, knowing that this is from Hiroshi Takahashi, the writer of the original Ringu and some of its sequels, thereby expecting another "haunted footage that kills everyone who dares see it" movie. If only things were that simple. We cut to the two girls as adults. Kaori (Mina Fujii) is trying to find her sister Miyuki who's disappeared, but doesn't know that Kaori recently killed herself as part of this strange group (read: cult). Miyuki (Yuri Nakamura) wakes up in a hospital that isn't really a hospital and realises she's meant to be dead - she did kill herself, after all - and then things get really weird. The film jumps all over the place, so it's hard to get a handle on exactly what's going on or even if you're meant to know what's going on. This sort of time displacement works when you have a very strong script, and visual cues always help (i.e. the black-and-white footage in Memento to differentiate the "flashback but moving-forward" footage as opposed to the "present-day, moving-backwards" footage). Unfortunately Kyofu has no such elements. However, what can be gleaned from the film, without giving much away (this all happens within the first 20 minutes!) is that it's about stimulating a precise part of the brain with electrical current to invoke involuntary reactions, and how it's some bullshit about unlocking a new evolutionary path towards spirituality. It's basically an excuse to make bizarre things happen with no explanation needed - aka, the "it's all in the mind" excuse. Ultimately, however, even with all the elements of a potentially good horror film - unexplained happenings, ghostly apparitions, gruesome brain surgery - nothing clicks like it should. Even when the so-called "explanation" comes at the end, it still doesn't make any sense. Some poor effects and dodgy practical makeup is the proverbial icing on this shit cake. There's simply no sense of urgency, even when an evil white fog is spreading through the hospital.

Kyofu has good intentions. There are some good shots, and it really tries hard to create a moody, unsettling atmosphere. Unfortunately it's the script that's the letdown here, unless it turns out the English subtitles provided were woefully inaccurate. The plot is all over the place. In a bid to try to be enigmatic, the movie simply loses the plot. It feels like a rushed cut-and-paste job, with scenes failing to build on those that came before it, until the whole project falls into an unintelligible, mismanaged heap. The actors are pretty good - Fujii and Nakamura as the two sisters obviously have the most screen time and acquit themselves well enough, but unfortunately the direction they've been given is of the "move around and speak really slowly in the hope that this will all seem really creepy" variety. This sort of acting style proves immensely frustrating rather than captivating, like we're watching the actors move around in invisible jelly, their brains having been pumped full of sleeping gas so that - every - fucking - word - is - spoken - agonisingly - slowly. Nagisa Katahira as Etsuko doesn't have as much to do as you initially expect, so her performance winds up feeling neutered. And the less said about the main male actor's performance the better - he is so unmemorable I can't even recall his name, nor feel compelled to do a quick IMDB search to confirm either the actor's real name or the name of the character he played.

The film raises more questions than it answers. How can the technicians see the manifestations of dreams through the video monitors? Was there another reason behind the surgery other than the vague "other side" stuff? Are the apparitions in the mind or are they able to manifest themselves in the real world? What was the meaning of the white light and by witnessing it did that somehow affect the girls in their later years? Perhaps a rewatch or two would be required to clarify some of this, but that would mean having to sit through Kyofu again, a decidedly unappealing proposition.

The biggest problem with Kyofu is that it isn't especially interesting; for all the strange goings-on, you wind up caring remarkably little about the sisters' wellbeing. It's a visually unappealing film too - trying to be being grim and moody doesn't mean bland cinematography: look at Se7en - depressing as shit, always dark and raining, yet it had a distinctive and rich texture - Kyofu is just drab in look and drab in delivery. Ringu, for all its flaws, was a genuinely creepy film you could really immerse yourself in if you were in the right mood. Kyofu's so busy in perplexing you in order to deliver some unsuccessful chills that it forgets the key rule that all horror films should follow: if you can't scare or horrify, at least entertain.
The Disc
Kudos to Eastern Eye for bringing little-seen films like Kyofu to Region 4 DVD; however, perhaps there's a reason why films like Kyofu remain pretty much undiscovered by Western audiences. The anamorphic widescreen presentation of Kyofu is satisfactory, considering the mostly flat and unappealing - and, I assume, digital - cinematography doesn't lend the film any favours. The Japanese 5.1 audio track makes a little more of an impact, but as with the film's visual style, the sound effects and score are sparse and could have been culled from any "do-it-yourself-horror-film" stock library. English subtitles are well done for the most part, other than some weird truncated sentences like "You are!" and "This is!". Features are limited only to a theatrical trailer and trailers for other Eastern Eye releases.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Kyofu mistakes obfuscation for complexity, and its glacial pacing, wobbly premise and so-so effects mean it's a real struggle to maintain interest. Some okay performances and a little bit of blood only go so far. There are elements herein that could have made a satisfying and unsettling film, but as it stands this is only worth a look if you collect Japanese horror films like Pokemon trading cards. For almost everyone else, it rates a "meh".
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