"This all sounds fine in print, but it doesn't get satisfactorily played out on screen."

- Numskull

Shikoku (1999)

Director: Shunichi Nagasaki

Producer: Masato Hara

Writer: Kunimi Manda, Takenori Sento

Cast: Yui Natsukawa, Michitaka Tsutsui, Chiaki Kuriyama, Toshie Negishi, Ren Osugi, Makoto Sato, Taro Suwa, Tomoko Otakara, Haduki Kozu

Running Time: 101 min.

Plot: A woman returns to the small town she grew up in and finds it troubled by the spirit of a dead friend.


NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: Shikoku is a ghost story which, not unlike Memento Mori, aims to alternate between touching the heart and making it beat faster. Sadly, it fails in almost every way that that Korean favorite succeeded. Tepid storytelling and a downright laughable climax gimmick conspire to make Shikoku an embarrassing entry in the Japanese supernatural horror genre.

To start with, there are three childhood friends...two girls (Sayori and Hinako) and a boy (Fumiya)...who grew up together in a small town. After a few blissful years, Hinako moves to Tokyo with her parents. Fast forward to the present day; Hinako returns to her home town and learns that Sayori died in high school. How? Drowning...a fate from which she once saved Hinako in happier times. The bitterness is exacerbated when Yukari, an old classmate, reveals that Sayori, who had always considered herself more mature than Hinako, bore a huge grudge against her former friend after her departure for Tokyo. (Hinako got to experience the great big outside world; Sayori was stuck in the boonies.)

Despite her feelings of loss and betrayal, Hinako finds solace in a renewed friendship with Fumiya, which now has a certain spark that was absent when they were children. Fumiya, it turns out, felt that same spark during adolescence with Sayori before she died. Meanwhile, Sayori's father lies comatose in the hospital, as he has done for years, and her grieving mother, whom everyone assumes has simply gone batty, makes the latest in a series of annual pilgrimages to a circle of temples on the island upon which the town is located. It is her belief that these journeys will restore life to her departed daughter.

This all sounds fine in print, but it doesn't get satisfactorily played out on screen. Not by a long shot. One shouldn't expect a great deal of realism in a film like this, but there comes a point in Shikoku when the horror becomes mundane, the fantasy becomes sheer nonsense, and whatever credibility it may have had goes straight down the tubes. To be specific (and yes, this means spoilers): there's a pool that nobody knows about which acts as a gateway to Yomi, the land of the dead, at the end of a forbidden path right there in the village (why does the path even exist if no one is allowed to go there?), and when the resurrected Sayori hugs her loved ones, she accidentally breaks their spines with her newfound superhuman strength. The melancholy story and ending are nowhere near as sad as the movie's cheese factor going through the roof so quickly after a reasonably solid buildup.

There's an enjoyable film begging to get out, here. It's kind of like trying to see something beautiful at the bottom of a muddy, polluted body of water. Instead of concentrating on what Shikoku Is, I found myself lamenting the loss of what it Could Have Been.