Zoo (DVD)

Zoo DVD (click for larger image)Starring Ryoko Kobayashi, Yui Ichikawa, AnjuSuzuki, Kasumi Suzuki, Jun Murakami

Directed by Ryu Kaneda, Masanori Adachi, Masaaki Komiya, Junpei Mizusaki and Hiroshi Ando

Distributed by Tokyo Shock

Kazari and Yoko

Twin sisters Yoko and Kazari have a loving mother, but their mother only cares for one of them. Mommy dearest enjoys beating Yoko and treating her like a worthless animal. Not a single soul seems to care for little Yoko until she helps an old woman, Mrs. Suzuki, find her lost dog. Will the elderly woman’s love help Yoko break free from the emotional scarring she has endured for so many years?

Talk about a well shot, well acted … and utterly depressing story. Yoko is easy to sympathize with thanks to her genuine performance and innocent nature that lasts all the way to the bitter end when she orchestrates her revenge on both her sister and mother. This reviewer refuses to spoil the ending, but I’ll just say that the end justified the means.

Kazari and Yoko never becomes preachy about the subject of child abuse; not even the reasoning for her mother’s abusive nature is explained aside from a slight nod that she may be a drunk. The entire affair stays simple as a story about a little girl who just wants to be loved and live like normal people.

Seven Rooms

Zoo DVD (click for larger image)Someone has kidnapped several women and placed them in separate small concrete prison cells, each with one large metal door and one light. Luckily for one of the ladies, she got locked up with her tiny brother who can navigate the small water passages that connect the rooms. It is soon discovered that he comes at six o’clock on the sixth day of captivity to kill his prisoners and our young heroes must find some way to break free if they want to live.

Seven Rooms seems very familiar. The color palette and overall drabness of the setting feel like a film we’ve all seen before. I wasn’t quite sure which film until he makes his first appearance brandishing a chainsaw. It was right there that it became clear. Seven Rooms is like a mini-Hostel sans the graphic violence; we never see someone chopped up but we know it happens.

Does this mean that Seven Rooms is just as fun as the Roth film it appears to copy? Nope. While the camera work and tension make for an interesting 20+ minutes, there’s never a big payoff, just more depression. More tears are shed than blood, and that does not make this horror fan happy. It is difficult not to wonder why some people just don’t try to fight back, especially when you outnumber a guy six to one. Good try, but not fulfilling enough.

So Far

A young boy’s parents have been killed in a car accident, but they have returned to him. Neither the mother nor the father can see each other, yet both can see and talk to their son. Their son is stuck in the middle, relaying messages between the two of them, but their separate worlds are becoming more and more disjointed.

This episode has nothing to do with horror. The parents aren’t even really dead! Oops, spoiled the twist. Being teased like this really makes the blood boil. So far we have one real horror story and two that are more about bad parenting than bloodshed … what is wrong with this picture? Zoo’s DVD cover art makes one believe that these are horrific tales, but we are almost to the end and there’s nothing that has made a single hair stand up on the back of my hairy neck. Fuckity, fuckity, fuck.

In its defense, however, So Far does a good job of addressing how marital problems can have a deep impact on a child caught in the middle. It is good in its own right in an After School Special sort of way rather than a ghost story. Two more to go, and these last ones will hopefully be part of our genre.

Hidamari No Shi

Zoo DVD (click for larger image)Millions of years in the future, humans have gone extinct. Cities lay in ruin, slowly being overgrown by greenery, and animals now can now live in peace. Who will carry on the human culture? Who will take care of the bunnies?! Simulants!

Again we horror fans are faced with something that cannot be considered part of our genre by any stretch. There’s a little blood thanks to a dead rabbit, but that can hardly be considered horror unless the little hopper comes back from the dead to feast on the carrots of the living.

Hidamari No Shi is still not a bad bit of work, even if it doesn’t strike a cord in our black hearts. The thought of a world whose only human-like inhabitants are robots is interesting. One robot creates another just before it dies so the new one can … tend to a garden. Sigh. The audience never gets to know how we got snuffed out of existence, but somehow that just doesn’t seem to matter. I have a sneaking suspicion it had to do with the Bush administration. Just a hunch.

This is the only animated story in the lot, and it has a special flair. The mixture of soft colors, CGI and cell-shading give this piece a haunting alien look at our familiar world. The characters are all soft spoken and have one note performances, so it seems the real star of the story is the situation. For the remainder of the Earth’s days one robot will make another to keep a very small flame burning in honor of the human race. This is a pretty damn depressing DVD. Where’s my gun?


Zoo DVD (click for larger image)Love can be a dangerous mistress. It can make us do things we never imagined. Love can turn a man on his brother with the slightest smell of jealousy. The emotion can even backfire and cause the delicate balance of reality and fantasy to implode like a dying star. OK, maybe not. Love, however, did cause a young photo-bug to kill his girlfriend in the middle of an abandoned zoo while a zebra watched. Animal snuff porn, anyone?

Finally, a horror film! A horror film that makes no sense what-so-ever! OK, we can’t be picky here since it is the only story out of five that has some gruesome images. The audience is constantly shown images of the guy’s dead girlfriend in various states of yummy decomposition, and this more than makes up for the story not making any sense. For whatever reason the zoo in which he killed her disappears after several months of the murder and the aforementioned zebra vanishes from the pictures he took of his ex. She may be a vengeful ghost, or the zebra, or a vampire. I don’t know! Oh, and someone is sending him back all of the pictures he took of her dead body, one at a time. At least the story is a little creepy and we get a dead body, and that is the shining light on this very, very depressing DVD.

Though the stories for the most part may be cool (depending on what other genres you like outside of horror), we never get to delve deeper into what made them tick. Usually making-of featurettes show us how something is made or how the story transitioned from page to film … but that doesn’t happen here. The behind-the-scenes videos for So Far and Seven Rooms are more like loosely strung together interviews than an actual look at the filmmaking process. The young actors get plenty of screen time in both featurettes where they discuss their feelings on the cast/crew and the excitement of working in the movie industry, but does this really constitute a making-of ? A slight saving grace is the amount of footage featuring the crew at work, but again not once is anything explained to us about their respective episodes, experiences or anything remotely interesting.

Zoo is a great work of visual art, but the stories never satisfy that thirst for blood. It is entirely possible to look at this DVD and say, “Wow! These are beautiful films,” but by the end there’s little to remember about them. It also does not help that most of the segments end on such depressing notes that it is difficult not to put a gun to your head. Maybe these suicidal tendencies could have been averted if we saw a few more dead bodies or at least a limb getting chopped off. Hell, right now this reviewer would settle for some creepy long-haired kids who croak. I feel the need to blog and write bad poetry … must resist!

Special Features
• Making-of So Far
• Making-of Seven Rooms
• Trailer and TV spots


3 out of 5

Special Features

2 out of 5

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Mike Phalin

Mike Phalin is a contributing writer, reality television star and engineer.

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