St. John's Wort
"I can't think of a movie that has more fun with the simple fact that film is a visual medium (aside from special effects shitfests like the latter Star Wars installments)."
St. John's Wort (2001)
Director: Shimoyama Ten
Producer: Masato Hara
Writer: Goro Nakajima
Cast: Megumi Okina, Yoichiro Saito, Koji Ogura, Reiko Matsuo, Minoru
Running Time: 85 min.
Plot: A video game designer investigates an old mansion with his ex-girlfriend, who has just inherited it, in search of ideas for his new project: a "survival horror" type game. Before too long, they'll both wish he had just hacked out something for the kiddies.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: This visually striking, digitally-shot Japanese horror film is so "style over substance" it's not even funny...but that's okay, because techno-savvy director Shimoyama Ten knows the proper way to make such a film. The exploits of Nami (Megumi Okina) and her video game designing ex-boyfriend Kohei (Yoichiro Saito) inside a decadent mansion full of ghastly secrets owes a debt to jillions of other horror movies as well as the "survival horror" games in which Kohei specializes, particularly "Bio Hazard" (renamed "Resident Evil" in the United States for no apparent reason); just take a look at the mansion's foyer. The fixed camera angles of such games are emulated by black and white security cameras positioned throughout the house. Scenes that take place out of doors have a bizarre color scheme with lots of unnatural yellows and purples, video game dialogue boxes replace actual speech in an early encounter with the mysterious groundskeeper, and there's a touch of "The Blair Witch Project" in here as well; Kohei's camcorder captures much of the initial exploration. At one point, the picture on our screens rewinds itself, and it then shows Nami and Kohei watching themselves on the camcorder, from the angle from which we were just yanked. Camera trickery like this abounds in St. John's Wort; I can't think of a movie that has more fun with the simple fact that film is a visual medium (aside from special effects shitfests like the latter Star Wars installments).
Unfortunately, all of this experimentation can't quite make up for the strictly average storyline, which involves the hideous history of Nami's deceased father, and someone(s) stalking the intrepid duo as they reluctantly remain in the decrepit domicile (they're stuck there; I won't say why). Kohei keeps in contact with his two fellow techno junkies, Shinichi and Toko (a girl with bleached blonde hair) via his laptop computer. The mansion itself is an outstanding example of set design, with sinister-looking dolls and Nami's dad's morbid paintings helping to create an oppressive, quietly disturbing atmosphere. Although the film's impact is weakened by some lame dialogue and a cop-out ending, it's hard to dislike due to the feast for the eyes it provides (the eyes...THE EYES...).
NUMSKULL'S RATING: 7/10