Kenji Kawai

Tormented (2011, Shimizu Takashi)

Near as I can recall, Tormented is my first modern Japanese horror movie. Somehow, I’m still familiar enough with the genre to know this one’s highly derivative. The writers throw in something else ominous every few minutes just to keep the picture moving–and it’s only eighty minutes so they clearly didn’t have any initial story, just the idea of 3D scares.

Only, there aren’t any scares. Not even the giant rabbit (on loan from the States and Donnie Darko) can be chilling. Why? Because Tormented looks like something a bunch of kids shot on one of their dads’ camcorders in 1998. If one were being polite, he or she could call Christopher Doyle’s photography amateurish. Incompetent is a better word, however. It’s a tragedy, actually, given how well Doyle used to shoot film.

Director Shimizu doesn’t do the film any favors either. He tries for subtle visual scares and fails. He tries for 3D wonderment and fails. He doesn’t have a single decent shot; adequate composition doesn’t rely on lighting. Doyle’s responsible for Tormented looking flat and lifeless. Shimizu could at least get a good angle in occasionally.

Oh, I forgot about the mute sister. She’s the protagonist (or at least narrator–but she’s mute, see how uncanny it is!), though she shares that focus with her little brother. Mitsushima Hikari plays the sister. She’s weak, but vaguely okay. Shibuya Takeru is terrible as the kid.

Kagawa Teruyuki plays the dad. He’s surprisingly okay.

Tormented’s an awful picture.



Directed by Shimizu Takashi; written by Hayashi Sôtarô, Hosaka Daisuke and Shimizu; director of photography, Christopher Doyle; music by Kawai Kenji; production designer, Ikeya Noriyoshi; produced by Ogura Satoru and Tanishima Masayuki; released by Phantom Film.

Starring Mitsushima Hikari (Kiriko), Shibuya Takeru (Daigo) and Kagawa Teruyuki (Dad).

Antarctic Journal (2005, Yim Pil-sung)

I guess this film has gotten some bad reviews. Or just excessively mediocre ones. It’s not quite populist enough–it sets itself up as a supernatural thriller set in Antarctica, but it’s all really about internal human conflicts and some creepiness sure. I’m trying to think of a good way to describe it and I suppose the best way is… imagine one of John Carpenter’s “horror” movies from the 1980s (They Live and Prince of Darkness). Now imagine it’s decent. Antarctic Journal is not bad. At some points, it could have gone either way. Respectably uncanny or human conflict. It didn’t need to have both and using the uncanny to fuel the human conflict, well, it’s cheap. I don’t if that’s why the film wasn’t successful. I doubt it. Emotional cheapness is highly rewarded by film-going audiences.

As a “box office failure,” Antarctic Journal is a bit of filmmaking achievement. It’s beautiful–snowy New Zealand fills in for Antarctica–it’s well-directed, the plotting isn’t bad, but the characters never gel. We don’t care enough about the ones who die first (it’s Korean, so it’s not Ernie Hudson) and we don’t worry enough to fuel that internal human conflict I mentioned early. The characters just aren’t full enough. They serve the filming location. The acting is good, even when you expect them to go overboard, the characters keep it under check.

I was fully expecting to turn Antarctic Journal off. I was going to watch the other night’s episode of “The Office,” maybe “Boston Legal” too, if I had time. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped a Korean movie. (The place isn’t called The Stop Button for nothing). That says a hell of a lot about a film industry….



Directed by Yim Pil-sung; written by Yim and Bong Joon-ho; director of photography, Jeong Jeong-hun; edited by Kim Sun-min; music by Kawai Kenji; produced by Lim Heui-cheol; released by Showbox.

Starring Song Kang-ho (Choi Do-hyung), Yu Ji-tae (Kim Min-jae), Kim Kyeong-ik (Yang Geun-chan), Park Hee-soon (Lee Young-min), Yoon Jae-moon (Kim Sung-hoon), Choi Duek-mun (Seo Jae-kyung) and Kang Hye-jeong (Yoo-jin).

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