Starring Maiko Asano, Makoto Ashikawa, Manasaku Ikeuchi
Directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura
Up until recently, it would’ve been safe to say I was sick to death of the Asian horror market, especially the endless ghost story re-treads coming out of Japan and Korea. Sure there are some classics that have originated from those regions, but realistically the whole J-horror phenomenon was looking like it had run its course.
Tartan has helped re-shape that opinion for me, taking the time to track down the gems from the piles of feces, something I greatly appreciate, and The Booth is definitely one that shines.
Shogo, the host of a popular love advice radio, shows up for work one night to find his studio abandoned. He’s ushered downstairs into Room 6, a disused but still functional studio that he and his team are forced to occupy while their regular studio undergoes renovations. Tonight the topic is “Harmful Words”; listeners are encouraged to call in and tell about instances in which someone they were romantically involved with said something that really hurt their feelings. It starts off normally enough, but in the middle of one call a voice cuts in and simply says “liar”. At first he thinks it’s a prank, but unexplainable feedback and genuinely creepy sounds unnerve him to the point that he starts to wonder if he’s not lost his mind.
His production team reveals to him that the studio is supposedly haunted, a fact that Shogo is not happy about that at all, having some rather dark ghosts of his own hiding away. The strange occurrences keep up for the next few hours, and with each new caller the viewer is shown a piece of Shogo’s past that reveals the hidden truth of what he’s guilty of. Shogo starts to believe that he is doomed, unwilling to leave the booth at first because of fear, later because two gentlemen show up who he believes to be police who have discovered what he’s done. And the calls keep coming…
Though it sounds very cut and dry, the coolest part of The Booth is that nothing is exactly what it seems. The viewer is taken down one path for a good portion of the film; lead to believe these happenings are going on because of Shogo’s past, but all of a sudden it’s revealed that that may not necessarily be the case. Essentially the ghost that may or may not be in the studio can see everything Shogo’s done wrong and wants to make sure isn’t allowed to forget it.
Nakamura’s direction is solid, timing the scares just right to catch the audience off guard while not dumbing down the horror to appeal to the lowest common denominator. There’s nothing that one would consider groundbreaking in this story, instead Nakamura takes the conventions of the ghost story and manipulates them so they seem fresh. The way Shogo’s back-story is handled is especially effective as well, serving as both a way in which to break up the monotony of a film that takes place in the course of one night in a radio studio, and showing us that Shogo isn’t all he comes across on-air.
Ultimately, The Booth is a good indication of where the younger directors in Japan are heading; taking conventional ghost story elements and updating them with more intelligent plots, filled with twists and turns that keep the audience guessing. The only real problem I had with it overall was the pace, which starts going strong midway through but drops off towards the end, and the finale seems to come from nowhere. A bit more back-story wouldn’t have hurt, but then part of the film’s charm lies in the fact that it’s not all laid out for you.
Tartan will be releasing The Booth on DVD in May, so keep your eyes peeled for it!
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