Japan sure loves its ghosts. Especially when they rake in lots of cash. Back in 1998 Hideo Nakata’s Ring became a worldwide phenomena, and faster than you can scream “banzai,” theaters were flooded with evil longhaired spooks again. One of the first films out the door was Shikoku, which was rushed out on a double-bill with the highly anticipated Ring 2.
The story concerns Hinako, a woman who returns to visit her childhood village on the island of (*drum roll*) Shikoku. Upon arrival, she learns that Sayori - her former best friend - drowned in the river many years ago. To make matters worse, ghosts suddenly begin popping up in the village and several people believe the long-dead Sayori to be behind the hauntings. As the town grows more frightened, it’s up to Hinako and her old friends to learn the island’s secrets and stop Sayori’s evil mother from making a reverse-pilgrimage that will trigger…
Aw, screw it.
How can you properly explain Shikoku when the filmmakers themselves can’t? While there are plenty of good ideas on the surface, this mixture of mystery, religion, and mythology is so inept, the whole thing crumbles under its own weight. It would be easy to blame this all on cultural differences, but the problems with this convoluted story stem more from horrible pacing, piss-poor exposition, and an over-complicated script. Amidst the lifeless direction, Shikoku also contains long stretches of inactivity. Wooden characters mope around and act tragic as they blandly go through the motions of clue hunting. The performances are equally dull, save for mega-babe Chiaki (Battle Royale, Kill Bill) Kuriyama, who delivers a few nice moments as the lead specter.
Which leads us to the ghosts themselves: You would think that a story full of angry Japanese spirits would contain a high creep-out factor. Not here. Director Shunichi Nagasaki tries desperately to imitate Ring’s subtlety but only succeeds in creating totally ineffectual scares. To add insult to injury, the entire thing climaxes with a sappy “romance from beyond the grave” ending that would cause Steven Spielberg to gag.
The only real strength in Shikoku lies within…well, Shikoku. The overcast island locale is absolutely stunning and lends the film an atmosphere it doesn’t really deserve. The rickety villages, ancient shrines, and dark caverns give off a creepy Lovecraftian vibe while making you wish they were used in a better film.
Shikoku is a movie that wants to be many things but ultimately fails in every department. Since Hollywood has taken upon itself to remake just about all the good Asian horrors, maybe they should give this one a spin as well. It certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Directed by Shunichi Nagasaki
Starring Yui Natsukawa, Michitaka Tsutsui, Chiaki Kuriyama, Toshie Negishi, Ren Osugi
“Making Of” featurette
2 out of 5