Starring: Shinya Tsukamoto, Tomomi Miyashita and Kazuhiro Nakahara
Tartan Asia Extreme
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: 18
Available 25 September 2006

An independent cameraman catches on film a man, surrounded by police, forcing a knife through one of his eyes and into his head. Later, studying his own footage in more detail, he wonders at the terror on the man's face. What had he seen? Returning to the scene of the incident, he catches a glimpse of something strange scuttling though a hatch plate. He cautiously follows, filming along the way, and finds himself in a vast underworld catacomb beneath Tokyo, confirming the Japanese urban myth. Here he meets the dead man he had filmed and learns about the mysterious Deros. He eventually reaches the Mountains of Madness, and finds a naked young woman chained to the rocks. He takes her back to his apartment, intending to care for her, but she has never known human company and refuses to eat or drink. It is then that he discovers, by accident, that she thrives on human blood...

Takashi Shimizu, director of Ju-on: The Grudge, this time brings us a tale which is eerie rather than frightening. It's a vampire story with a difference. With amazing Japanese horror films such as this one we are always given something in addition to the standard plot. It's not uncommon for the viewer to be uncertain as to what is real or fantasy within the telling of the fictional piece. In this case, the entire structure is not as it seems. The inference is that the protagonist is suffering some sort of delusional mental state. The mysterious woman following him is, according to her, his wife, and she is concerned about their daughter who is being kept locked-up and mistreated by him. He of course retorts that he has no daughter, and kills her to feed the young woman her blood.

This isn't one of the best East Asian horror films to have emerged in recent years, but it exudes class from every frame. You feel compelled to watch the action extremely closely, because even when nothing is happening, something is happening. The direction and pacing are top-notch. Okay, the Mountains of Madness (openly stolen from the H.P. Lovecraft novel) consist of a pretty standard-looking set painting; however, that can be forgiven because it's only very briefly seen, and there's a limit to what can be achieved in a studio. I liked the idea of the mysterious and quietly threatening phone calls, presumably from Deros. When you are given an alternative interpretation near the end, even those phone calls can be seen in another light.

It strikes me as strange that such a visionary director as Takashi Shimizu should be so friendly yet tedious to listen to in an interview (we'll forgive him this once - he is rather put on the spot!). Other interviews on the special features include Shinya Tsukamoto (the key character), and Hiroshi Takahashi (the producer). There's also a theatrical trailer. I would very much liked to have seen a behind-the-scenes for this one, but that's conspicuous by its absence. Don't let that turn you off though. This is a very enjoyable film, which followers of Japanese horror will lap up.

Ty Power

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