Lovesick Dead (2001) by Kazuyuki Shibuya

Midori (Risa Goto) is a high-schooler troubled by a recurring dream of a roadside shrine and the ancient practice of Tsuruji, where a person stands by the shrine and asks the first passer-by whether they will find love or not. Midori’s dream always ends with the appearance of a dark figure. On her first day at a new school she meets Suzue, whose friends relate several other eerie stories involving Tsuruji. Two of the students meet a gruesome end after trying Tsuruji, lending credence to these rumours. Midori also meets an old friend called Ryusuke who she hasn’t seen for 10 years. Meanwhile, Midori’s mother begins to break down, continually scrubbing mold off the walls of their apartment.

Based on a Junji Ito manga, with a script by Naoyuki Tomomatsu, “Lovesick Dead” (also known as “Love Ghost”, brings together three ghost stories disguised as a high-school romance. The first concerns the Tsuruji shrine and the violent fates awaiting the girls who attempt to discover their futures; the second revolves around Midori and Ryusuke’s relationship; and a third is centred on Midori’s mother and the disappearance of her father 10 years prior. The film spends a long time setting up Midori’s high-school classmates, who are then jettisoned in the final third as the story comes to focus on the story of Ryusuke. The three story threads can be largely seen as distinct plots, as they mostly function without reference or relevance to the others. When we reach the moment of revelation, the film does provide an intriguing twist, throwing in a new element to the story and slowly beginning to untangle the various mysteries established earlier on. There are plot holes and inexplicable moments that undermine the entire story of the school and Midori’s new classmates, but it is a satisfactory, if unsurprising, conclusion. There are flashes of brilliance in the direction and storytelling here, isolating characters with clever framing, and setting up certain elements of the twist beforehand so it doesn’t feel like you have been misled. The acting is largely melodramatic and the cast have little to do, with an emotional range from slightly concerned to seriously worried. Aside from two suicides, the film’s horror elements are confined to the creepy ghost stories, with a comfortably traditional feel. The soundtrack does an excellent job in complementing the gothic romance.

As with many films dealing with the idea of fate or premonition, “Lovesick Dead” presents us with the dangers of discovering your own fate. As this doom is always inescapable it is unwise to search too keenly for it. The film also poses the intriguing logical question of a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby the recipient of this preternatural warning becomes the agent of their own destruction, therefore fulfilling what was foretold. The Tsuruji plotline is the most interesting part of the film, bringing a traditional tale to a modern audience it offers a unique take on the dark fate awaiting horror victims. In contrast, Midori’s own story with Ryusuke is a more typical ghost story with psychological elements; and Midori’s mother’s tale is one of guilt and despair. These two stories suffer a little due to a lack of serious character work. There is a lot to explore in this atypical “mother-daughter” relationship and the way that their pasts are impacting their present, but the film wraps up relatively quickly after we discover what has happened, giving little time for such an emotional denouement. “Lovesick Dead” draws together several traditional high-school horror elements in a film that moves quickly and doesn’t outstay its welcome. It is unlikely to offer genuine shocks, but if you are looking for a mildly chilling tale you will enjoy it.

Spiral (2000) by Higuchinsky

As Kirie (Eriko Hatsune) is on her way to school she notices her friend Shuichi’s father apparently fixated on the spiral pattern of a snail shell. The man’s interest in spirals soon becomes an obsession and Kirie begins to see other occurrences of this phenomenon. At first thinking it a ridiculous oddity, she soon becomes worried and terror begins to set in when several people die in gruesome circumstances related to the spiral pattern.

“Spiral” is based on the manga “Uzumaki” by horror master Junji Ito, with a screenplay by Takao Niita. Director Higuchinsky creates a strange and disturbing experience that blends several genres, from blackly comic thrills to grotesque body horror, to the psychological terror of avant-garde arthouse films. The cinematography by Gen Kobayashi is in a washed out tone that heightens the sense of unreality. The film feels staged or dated in a way that is unsettling, almost as though it is happening in a parallel world where everything is ever so slightly off-kilter. The story is compelling, despite the unbelievable premise, and the grotesque nature of the deaths is genuinely shocking. The script is simple yet effective in showing everything but explaining nothing, leaving the meaning entirely up to the imagination of the viewer. Eriko Hatsune as Kirie and Fhi Fan as Shuichi, are charismatic and do a great job with the material, playing things completely straight throughout increasingly bizarre occurrences. Keiichi Suzuki and Tetsuro Kashibuchi create a score that complements the odd, dreamlike sensibilities of the story, limping from comic accompaniment to dark oppressive tones.

The film’s strength lies in never fully explaining what is happening, or why, with several possible interpretations swirling around. The spirals provoke a dangerous obsession in those who are afflicted and this is the most simplistic reading of the plot: as a straightforward morality tale on the dangers of obsession causing people to lose sight of their lives and become so consumed that it finally kills them. There is also a darker reading related to mental health issues, particularly depression and anxiety leading to a decent into an increasingly troubling, pessimistic, and all-consuming world view. The idea of the spiral, particularly a downward spiral, bring to mind primal fears such as these, and for this reason the film grows more unsettling when picking apart the potential themes. This will appeal to fans of over-the-top horror and psychological horror alike, with a unique story that draws you in to contemplating the significance of the spirals along with the characters.