Cursed AKA 'Chô' kowai hanashi A: yami no karasu (2004)
R0 - Hong Kong - Unicorn Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (26th December 2005).
The Film

The Asian, and especially Japanese horror film-boom basically started when “Ring AKA Ringu” was released in 1998. More of these modern day ghost stories followed after that, and now several of them have also been remade in the US. So what was the secret of their success? In some ways they went back to the basics, and to the things that many of the best horror films are made of; operating on a psychological level with powerful visual images, old fashion scares and haunting music and sound effects, not to forget also the fact that these strange things usually are happening to ordinary people - so that viewers could relate to them more easily. The time was also ready for these movies, since overwhelming CGI-blockbusters and endless sequels didn´t do that well in the horror genre generally. Most of all they were actually scary; a thing that is often lacking when Hollywood is making horror-films. Budgets were also reasonable, which also helped to make more of them.

“Cursed” is a Japanese horror film, and a relatively “low budget” one, since it´s shot on video. This seems to be the debut movie by director/co-writer Yoshihiro Hoshino, and most of the actors are kind of new in the movie business, at least if you look at their CV. The film tells about a strange convenience store next to a highway, where Nao Shingaki (Hiroko Satô) works as a part-timer. The shopkeepers, an old couple, seem to be living in a world of their own, watching the security monitors all day long. When they do communicate, they mainly shout and speak awkard things. From the start (opening scene is great) the film brings certain uneasiness to the viewer, mixing horror, even some graphic violence and a David Lynch-type of storytelling and characters. The basic thing is that the shop seems to be cursed, and all the people who buy something from that store will be also cursed (you get really strange things from the cash register), and their fate will be usually sealed. Their death comes in many shapes and forms; sometimes in a spooky way, and sometimes with serious black humour (my favourite was the scene in the spa, which is rather effective). Like other films in this genre, this one is also creating atmosphere with music and sound effects, which adds a certain surreal feel to the film. Other important characters are: the representative of the bigger franchise chain who comes to evaluate the store, and Nao´s co-worker, and both of them bound to Nao´s character.

The film has many good elements, and certain scenes are rather spooky and also inventive, but overall the film is not as solid and good as some other more recent Japanese horror films. A lot of time is spent on the store, but the story doesn´t get enough out from that place (considering that it´s the main location of this film), even when some scenes are well made. Best scenes are those that will happen to the poor customers who got the curse, and those scenes happen outside the store. The actors are not very memorable (Hiroko Satô seems to be some kind of pin-up girl in Japan), and the lead actresses could´ve been stronger personalities, so that they could´ve carried the film further. In the end “Cursed” is trying a bit too much, adding horror, few bloody deaths, and surreal storytelling into one package. It doesn´t completely fail or anything like that, but it doesn´t add anything that special to the Japanese horror genre either.

Video

The film is presented in Anamorphic 1.78:1. What you´ll notice right from the start is, that you have that certain “digital look” to the film, and a quick look at IMDB tells that the film is shot on video (Digital Betacam). So what you´ll have are the advantages and disadvantages of video format. Advantages would be mainly that the transfer is very clean and there is no grain, but obviously video can´t match film, so the colours, contrasts and black levels are not that solid. Also, video is just not as natural looking as film is. I´m not sure that shooting on video was chosen based on artistic reasons or mainly that they could get the budget lower, but it´s not that bad a choice after all. That “digital look” makes some scenes even more unsettling, and together with weird sound effects they add some flavour to the film. Disc is “Single layer” (with DTS), so there are some compression artefacts in the transfer, at least in the darker areas. There is also some edge enhancement.

Do note, that the extras are included in the overall time of the disc (89:06 min), but the actual running time of the film is 81:14 min (NTSC). Disc is R0 and it has 6 chapters.

Audio

Here is where the things get interesting, and also more confusing. Disc has four different soundtracks: Japanese DTS 5.1, Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, and Cantonese Chinese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. There are optional English and Cantonese subtitles also. Since this is a newer film, I first chose the DTS-track, and waited for the proper surround experience. The problems started when the first dialogue kicked in. The dialogue is basically coming from all 5 speakers, which is not exactly right. What you´ll have is this strange “echo” that fills the room, since even if the track is 5.1, the normal dialogue mainly comes in the front (center) speaker. I then tried Dolby Digital 5.1-track, which was basically the same, but was significantly in a lower level (DTS is “loud”). At this point I was a bit worried, but fortunately disc also had Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-track, which sounded better than the 5.1-tracks. 2.0-track was mixed right, and it also sounded right. The problems are not that big when there are only music and sound effects in the film, but to me both the 5.1-tracks didn´t sound very good, so I have no choice but to recommend the 2.0 surround-track in this case. All is not lost though, since the 2.0-track is actually quite ok, with strong surround activity and that dialogue coming nicely mainly from the front (center) speaker. The film has plenty of strange sound effects which are a major part of the film, so it´s good that the 2.0-track is included. Other problem is the English subtitles, which are not always correct, and have several funny grammatical errors.

Extras

You can choose the extras from the menu in a normal way, or you can wait until the end credits of the film are over to watch them, since they´re “incorporated” into the film track for some reason. Main extra is “Behind the scenes”-featurette that runs 5:22 min. In this brief and light featurette the actress Hiroko Satô speaks about the film, but doesn´t go very deep into the production. A very typical promotional featurette, which you´ll probably forget pretty much after you´ve watched it. It´s in Japanese, and with optional English or Cantonese subtitles. Then you also have one bonus trailer for the film “Tokyo Psycho AKA Tôkyô densetsu: ugomeku machi no kyôki (2004)”, which is another low budget horror movie from Japan. The trailer runs 2:17 min and it has also optional English or Cantonese subtitles. You also get the DVD cover art of the same movie after the trailer. Keep case comes with cardboard Slip case. Note, that extras have also DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1-options, which both sounded very similar to the actual film (not very good).

Overall

For the fans of recent Japanese horror films, this film is worth seeing as an example of the more low budget-side of the genre. It has some scary scenes and a strange atmosphere, but it´s also quite clear that this is not at the same level as some other Japanese and Asian horror films. For the occasional viewer this might be a disappointment or a bit too “strange”, so if you´re more “into Mainstream”, this probably isn´t your cup of tea. Disc itself has some disappointments, but still not a bad way to see the film.

This DVD is available at HKFlix.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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