Friday, 14 October 2016

Shikoku (4 Stars)

This is my Halloween Challenge film #14. This was one of the first films that I bought on DVD, but I haven't watched it for more than 10 years. It's weird when that happens. What I mean is, it's obvious that I'll forget about a film that I didn't like much, but it's strange that I should leave a film that I enjoyed on my bookshelf all this time. "On my bookshelf" is figuratively meant, of course. I've moved house three times since then, in 2008, 2015 and 2016, so that's three times I've picked up the DVD and held it in my hand, but still didn't watch it. I have to thank the Skip To The End Podcast team for inspiring me to watch it again.

I remembered that Chiaki Kuryama appears in the film. After all, it's her picture on the DVD cover. What I didn't know until today is that she was only 14 at the time she made the film. In her interview on the disc she says that it's her first film. IMDB lists three earlier films for her, but I assume she only appeared as a non-speaking extra in those films. This must have been her first major part.

The film's title is ambiguous, which might not be apparent to English speakers. Shikoku is the name of one of the islands that makes up Japan, with a population of four million. The Japanese word Shikoku means four lands, referring to the island's four prefectures Kochi, Ehime, Kagawa and Tokushima. Shikoku can also be interpreted as land of the dead, due to the ambiguity of the word "shi", which means both death and the number four.

Shikoku is a mostly rural island which is lagging behind the rest of Japan in industrial development. This is apparent in an early scene when Hinako is using a mobile phone on the bus after arriving in Ehime from the mainland. The other passengers stare at her in amazement because they've never seen one before. However, as the bus drives away from the coast towards Kochi the signal is lost. It's a journey into the past.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's describe the plot. Hinako and Sayori are two girls who grew up on the island of Shikoku, in Koichi. They went to school together and were best friends. Hinako came from a simple family, but Sayori was the daughter of a priestess. The religion of Shikoku is Buddhism, but it's mixed with older religions akin to voodoo. When she was 12 Sayori had a crush on Fumiya, which she only confided in Hinako, since she was too shy to tell him herself.

Hinako's family moved to Tokyo. Their family home was maintained in their absence by the next door neighbours. Shikoku is a traditional area where people don't sell their houses if they move away. The property and the land it stands on is part of who they are. Besides, even if they had wanted to sell the house, who would have bought it? Shikoku is a place that people move away from, not a place people want to live. Hinako wrote letters to Sayori, but never received a reply.

20 years later Hinako returns to Shikoku, with a mobile phone in her hand that soon proves to be useless. She meets Fumiya, who is still single. He dated Sayori briefly, but she died of drowning when she was 16. Since then he's never found anyone who lives up to Sayori. He tells Hinako that Sayori felt betrayed by Hinako when she moved away, so she burnt all her letters. Fumiya feels attracted to Hinako and feels he can finally move on.

Sayori might be dead, but her spirit is lingering. Both Hinako and Fumiya see her ghost. Sayori still loves Fumiya, so she's jealous and wants revenge. Worse still, Sayori's mother is planning to bring Sayori back to life. In Shikoku there is a traditional pilgrimage in which believers visit all 88 Buddhist temples on the island. It's customary to begin at the Ryozen-ji Temple, number one on the map, but the pilgrimage can begin at any point as long as all 88 temples are visited in a clockwise order. The purpose of the pilgrimage is to keep the gateway between the living and the dead sealed. Sayori's mother carries out the pilgrimage in reverse order, anti-clockwise, which will result in the dead being released and returning to the island in physical bodies; not just Sayori, all the dead will rise again.

In my opinion there's nothing wrong with raising the dead, especially when it's someone as beautiful as Chiaki Kuryama, but when she's an evil revenant consumed with revenge we can expect problems.

Even as a disembodied ghost she's beautiful. I would gladly be haunted by her.

When the film was first released it was criticised as a rip off of "The Ring", but that's unfair. Yes, it's a ghost story about a young girl, but all Japanese ghost stories are about young girls. That's part of the Japanese culture. I can strongly recommend the film. It's out of print in America and England, but if you hurry you can still pick up copies from marketplace sellers. In Germany it's still easily available.

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  1. Replies
    1. Are you referring to the age of Chiaki Kuryama in the film?

    2. I never know with you whether you're being serious or not. Just in case it's the former, I'll make an attempt to defend myself. There's nothing wrong with finding a young girl beautiful. In this case, when I watched the film the first time I didn't realise how young she was. I simply looked at her and found her attractive. Now, 10 years later, I've found out that she was only 14. Does that mean I have to change my mind and say I don't find her beautiful? That would be silly. She still looks the same to me. It doesn't matter what I think about a girl's looks, what matters is how I act. On screen it doesn't matter anyway. If I see a Japanese girl in a Japanese film there's a zero percent chance I'll ever meet her. If I see a girl in the street I judge her by the age I think she looks, but I probably won't talk to her anyway. I don't talk to strangers just because they look cute, it's not the way I am. If I sit and talk to a girl in a social environment I'll almost certainly find out how old she is before it goes any further. So there's nothing perverted about me. As far as I'm concerned, under 16 means hands off. End of story.


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