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A group of girls heads out to a remote cabin with their teacher in order to rehearse a play that they’re going to perform and film for a school club. The teacher tells the girls that the house was once the scene of an incident in which past members of this same club experienced bizarre happenings. Furthering the creepiness is a tape discovered by the girls that shows the brutal murder of a woman by somebody in a Noh theater mask. When they arrive at the cabin, they discover that the incident on the tape takes place at the same cabin where they are right now. Cue weird sh*t happening.
It must be nice to be a fan of Asian horror cinema. Instead of having remake after remake after reboot and so on, Japanese filmakers are at least trying to branch out and do other things. However, with GUROZUKA, director Yoichi Nishiyama seems to have taken the idea of what RINGU had - that darn videotape showing some weird stuff - and then went off and came up with this film. But at least he's trying to not completely rip off RINGU, right?
For starters, I give Nishiyama points for the atmosphere he establishes for the film. It's a fairly creepy one that's set off by the film that the girls watch. It's not the whole shaky movement/bizarre visuals type of video, but one that's just creepy by the fact that the the Noh masks worn by the killer and the people in the video have the eerie ability to change expressions depending on which angle the viewer sees them. This rings true in real life, by the way.
But honestly, when the one bright spot in the film is the atmosphere perpetrated by a mask and nothing but, there's something wrong. GUROZUKA isn't bad, it's just really not memorable. The acting is alright and the girls are pretty cute, but there's nothing that endears the characters to you. The film also takes a rather long while to set things up, which can be understandable in order to build suspense, but it doesn't do much with it once the atmosphere bumps up the creep factor from the start. Nishiyama also not only borrows from RINGU, but also THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (those stick dolls nailed to trees) and other clichéd horror moments like the "girl in the shower and something creepy is going on outside the bathroom" bit that just seem to be more attempts to make the film more interesting than it really is. Don't let the front cover fool you, either. There's about as much blood used in the film as there is on the photoshopped cover art.
GUROZUKA isn't the worst film guilty of relying on derivatives ever, but it's certainly not the best. It's a "fire and forget" type of film that fans of RINGU and it's ilk may want to see if you're into the idea of watching an uneventful 85 minutes go by. While the use of the Noh mask and traditional Japanese theatre garb is definitely a creepy thing, it's not enough to make this movie much more exciting.
Video: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks pretty good for a low budget film. Details and colours are consistent, although at times there's a bit of softness to the picture and a bit of shimmering now and again. Still, this is a pretty good transfer.
Audio: The Dolby Digital Japanese 2.0 Stereo track is again what you'd expect from a film with this kind of budget. Action is spread evenly between the two channels, and also helps to bring out the excellent score. Dialogue was clear and easy to understand (even if it's in Japanese), and the English subtitles used in the film are coherent and typo-free.
The main extra is The Making of Gurozuka. It runs about 30 minutes and features cast and crew doing various things (such as keeping warm on the set and fending off the flu) while mixing in interviews with the cast. There's not a heck of a lot of information, and it feels disjointed with the fact that everything's in Japanese and you're reading subtitles, but at least everyone for the most part was enjoying themselves.
The film's trailer is also included.
Creepy Noh theatre stuff aside, GUROZUKA is an uneventful and ultimately poor use of 85 minutes to tell a story using borrowed concepts and doing nothing with them. I know it's a low budget film, but there could have been something more exciting than using jump scares to build and squander tension.