Pray (DVD)

PrayStarring Tetsuji Tamayama, Asami Mizukawa Katsuya Kobayashi, Fumiyo Khoinata, Sanae Miyata

Directed by Yuichi Sato

Released by Tartan Films

I first reviewed Pray a few months back when Tartan was kind enough to send me a screener of it, and at the time I was pretty damn impressed by this Japanese import. It was, and still remains, one of those rare Japanese ghost movies that isn’t your typical Japanese ghost movie. As Tamayama says many times in the special features on this disc, it’s a horror film with something more.

The story, in a nutshell, is about a young man and woman who are desperate for money. They need a lot of it very fast in order to pay off some drug-related debt. They foolishly decide that the best way to accomplish this is to get a hefty ransom, so they grab a little girl from her playground and head out to an abandoned school to wait for the money to come rolling in.

Of course, it’s not nearly as simple as that; indeed it’s far more complicated than I’m sure even they thought it could be. When the female co-conspirator (Mizukawa) calls the girl’s family to demand the money, she is informed that their daughter has been dead for exactly one year. Of course they’re not keeping a close eye on her; said girl vanishes right away, and the two of them are left wandering the increasingly creepy halls of the school trying to find her.

But even that is just the tip of the many twists and turns the plot of Pray takes; characters thought benign turn out to be treacherous, more and more players enter the game as it draws towards its final, bloody conclusion, and at the heart of it all is a promise made to our hero (Tamayama) when he was just a little boy. Pray is actually quite a touching story once you look past all the creeping horror and violence, and that’s what sets it apart from the rest of what is coming from the increasingly repetitive East these days.

Check out my full review of the film here if you want more.

Tartan’s done a great job with the clean-up on this one, as is to be expected. The screener that I had was very bad quality, indeed just good enough to be able to figure out what was happening in the especially dark scenes (which are legion), but that was about it. Not that I expect more from a screener. I’m glad, though, because it showed just how much work Tartan did to make sure it looked as good as possible on DVD.

The sound mix is noteworthy as well; the 5.1 works fantastically in the abandoned school environment, especially so when the creepy disembodied voice suddenly comes on out of nowhere and freaks everyone out. This scene had my skin crawling the second time around, and I knew what was going to happen! Just goes to show what a sound mix can do for you.

On the extras front, the first is a 10-minute “making of” featurette that actually doesn’t go into the making of the film as much as spend a lot of time listening to star Tamayama discuss why he wanted the film to be different from other horror films and how he approached his character. This is intercut with some behind-the-scenes, handheld camera footage from the set. It looks like it was actually quite a fun shoot, despite the cold weather (it was shot in February, and the school really was abandoned) and the serious tone of the film. Lots of laughing and joking around, which I guess you have to do when you’re trying to keep from freezing to death.

There’s also “Pray Q&A”, which shows the director and star at a preview screening of the film answering some questions from a moderator and chatting up the film in front of an audience. Nothing too revealing, it just goes a bit more into the film’s origins and the backgrounds of those involved. There’s a second part of the Q&A from another screening that also includes actress Asami Mizukawa in the fun. A trailer for Pray and a few other Tartan releases round out the package.

While not a shabby release at all, it sure would be nice to see Tartan start going toward producing their own features for the DVDs along with including the extras from the country of the film’s origins. An interview with the director and/or star by someone on this side of the pond would have been a welcome addition, but that’s about all I would add. Pray is worth picking up for the proof that J-horror is not dead and indeed might still have more life that originally thought.

Special Features
“Making of Pray
“Pray Q&A”

3 ½ out of 5

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