D: Yôichi Nishiyama
Japan (Eng. subs)
Gurozuka is the latest in Synapse Films' Asian Cult Cinema Collection, bringing the 2005 Japanese release to western audiences for the first time. The film follows a group of girls to a forest retreat where they plan to work on the latest project of their private film club (no, not that kind of film club...). Things go awry as the group view a tape made by previous club members, which appears to show a woman hacking another to death: is it a genuine snuff film, or a clever fabrication? The rest of the film sees the girls being picked off one by one - but is it a supernatural force behind the murders, or an all too human one?
One suspects that had Yôichi Nishiyama's film enjoyed an English release earlier, it would be hailed as one of the cult classics of J-horror cinema, but this 2012 release means it will inevitably be compared to previous J-horrors that focus on the marriage of ghosts and technology. Similarities to Ringu are obvious, with a found tape allowing the protagonists to identify the exact location of the incident, but Gurozuka also bears passing resemblance to many US slasher films. It's in the latter respect that Gurozuka is of most interest, as the traditional masked, axe-wielding maniac is transformed into a woman.
The all-female cast is also worthy of note, and their group dynamic is central to many of the plot developments, even if they are a slightly stereotypical bunch: there's the pampered princess whose father is financing their film project and her sycophantic hangers-on, the bullied loner, and the level-headed good girl who is (almost) the last woman standing. Unfortunately, the jealous bickering and bitching that characterises the girl's relationship is as much the focus of Gurozuka as the killer, and this apparent attempt to add to the mystery is more irritating than intriguing.
Perhaps something's lost in the translation of a lot of J-horror, but I found the film's resolution messy and not entirely satisfying, though it may equally have been that I was distracted throughout by the constant parade of Japanese 'kawaii' (literally, 'cute') fashion on display. The film also looks great, with some nice visual touches - such as the creepy portrait hanging in the background whilst one girl creeps along a corridor - and the opening credits include a brief fix of Japanoise. The extra 'Making of' feature is also entertaining (more kawaii), but at $24.95 I suspect it's one for the more committed J-horror fan.