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Dissecting Director Takashi Shimizu!

04.12.2016by: Jake Dee

DIRECTOR TAKASHI SHIMIZU!

No matter who you ask, it's clear Takashi Shimizu is one of the preeminent purveyors of Japanese horror cinema. The dude fomented a tidal wave of international acclaim when his 2002 movie JU-ON: THE GRUDGE proved so damn popular that Columbia Pictures not only remade the film for American audiences, but hired him to direct it himself...to in essence remake his own movie in a different language. How many people can lay that claim? Very few! Now, granted, the road has been a bit rocky since, hard to land real footing in the international horror scene since, but let's not pretend that Takashi has packed it in altogether. Hell no, this dude stays busy. His newest film, FLIGHT 7500, finally lands on DVD today, bumped all the way back from an originally slayed August 2012 release date. Now that's some delayed flight!

But in the interim between now and the original JU-ON, Shimizu has directed some 30 different movies, some of which include JU-ON: THE CURSE, THE CURSE 2, TOMIE: REBIRTH, MAREBITO, RINNE, GHOST VS ALIEN 03, SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D and TORMENTED. And really, that's just scratching the surface. Let's take a closer look at some of the deep cuts as we hospitably Dissect director Takashi Shimizu!

BEST WORK

GET JU-ON: THE GRUDGE HERE

Depending on the refinery of each and which you prefer - the raw, unvarnished energy of CURSE or the more glossily polished aesthetic of THE GRUDGE - either one could be construed as Shimizu's best to date. After-all, both films are part of the same trilogy and were successful enough to warrant a sequel. And as previously mentioned, the latter struck such an international chord that Columbia entrusted Takashi to rehash the story in English...with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) leading the way no less! Of course, much was lost in translation, mainly the anodyne R to PG-13 rating that gutted the intestinal fortitude of the original film in favor of a safer, more widely palatable audience. A studio mandate no doubt, but still, THE GRUDE remake isn't Shimizu's finest hour. However, the original just might be!

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Made in 2002, just prior to the deafening boom of Japanese horror imports - you know, where creepy, wan, long-black-haired Asian girls ruled the roost (THE EYE, DARK WATER, etc.) - THE GRUDGE still stands out among the pack. Much like RINGU, there's something so simple yet intrinsically terrifying about the premise alone. In THE GRUDE, a pair of vengeful spirits with malefic intent stalks and torments any and all tenants that dare enter the place of its residence. Shimizu, like THE CURSE, penned the script himself, but unlike THE CURSE, adequately pads the material out to a more satisfying feature length. THE CURSE films really do play as more of a blueprint, a trial preamble that ultimately gave way to the best, most accomplished entry of the bunch, THE GRUDGE. Shimizu fine tunes his craft here, tweaks it to the right pitch. It's in this film that the whole Japanese horror template was laid out and made accessible. The deliberate yet ominous pacing, the saturated color schemes, the impeccable staging and fastidious production design, all of it. Of course, the freakily malnourished alabaster skinned girly-ghost was in itself a revelation, one that was used ad nauseam by imitators in the years immediately following. Even if there's no personal animus held by Shimizu, the J-horror style of THE GRUDGE still holds!

WORST WORK

As tempting as it is to cite the American redux of THE GRUDGE and its sequel as his most famous misfires, it'd behoove us all to have a little variety around here. So, instead of THE GRUDGE or THE GRUDGE 2, I think it's fair to lambaste perhaps an even more flattening misstep Shimizu took with SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D in 2009. Good grief!

Here's the thing. SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D isn't exemplary in any way, shape or form. It's neither adequately shocking, dizzyingly labyrinthine, nor eye-popping as a 3D venture. So right off the bat, it fails to live up to its own title. Beyond that though, Shimizu simply fails to recreate the kind of tension, suspense, cool production design and compelling story of his earlier work. Perhaps that has to do with the fact he didn't originate the script for SHOCK LABYRINTH. Whatever the case, it's quite clear that the film is an inferior muddle of ideas and images that Shimizu already essayed years before, to far greater results. SHOCK LABYRINTH is not only poorly conceived, it's badly acted, diegetically dreamlike to the point of utter confusion, has very little gore in comparison to Shimizu of yore, and if all that wasn't bad enough, the abysmal fog of poorly post-converted 3D...the kind that makes ALICE IN WONDERLAND look like AVATAR...is what accounts for the films ultimate undoing. Seriously, in the time between 2000-2005, you could almost tell just by taking a look at one scene that Shimizu directed it. By the time SHOCK LABYRINTH dropped, all signs of a once renowned J-horror epicure had vaporized.

TRADEMARKS

Ghosts. Let's be real about it - ghosts, jinnis, spirits, phantoms, specters, poltergeists - these are the most obvious of crossovers in the work of Takashi Shimizu. And not just vengeful spirits, but a specific type. Often young and female, sickly, gaunt, jaundiced skin with cruddy long black hair and warped eyeballs...this is the ever-present template of the afterlife in Shimizu's work. In pretty much every movie he's made - from JU-ON and TOMIE, to RINNE, SHOCK LABYRINTH and TORMENTED - the same kind of ghastly production design has largely remained intact. There's a distinct uniformity - without being redundant - that can be traced throughout his entire body of work. You know, if it ain't broke right?!

HIDDEN GEMS

GET TOMIE: RE-BIRTH HERE

At only 43 years of age, Shimizu has totaled over 30 directorial credits since 1998. Dude's prolific. And with such an output, there's an ineluctable spell of lesser known works, particularly ones lurking the massive shadow of JU-ON. Two in particular that we've seen are more than worthy of seeking out and scoping, they being the 2001 flick TOMIE: RE-BIRTH and the 2005 flick RINNE. Let's take a close peek!

Chronologically speaking, TOMIE: RE-BIRTH was sandwiched between JU-ON: THE CURSE and THE GRUDGE, and could have easily gotten lost in the shuffle along the way. But trust, this is early Shimizu at his hungriest and most ingenious, relying on the kind of low-budget instincts that would carry over through all of his films. Now, it's worth noting that TOMIE is Junji Ito comic series and has many film iterations chronicling the titular character. In RE-BIRTH, the story follows an art student who not only disappears after murdering a model, but whose family is then tormented by the ghost of said ghost immediately thereafter. The movie firmly establishes Shimizu's trademarks, both in terms of the ethereal as well as the aesthetic. You know, the slow mounting tension, the sallow skin-tone of the female ghosts, the vengeful thrust of the story, etc. A solid entry to the TOMIE universe that tends to get overlooked.

GET RINNE HERE

But to be as blunt as a Snoop Dog smoke, RINNE (REINCARNATION) is my favorite Shimizu film. Do wise and find this one if you haven't, you won't rue the decision. See, it's meta film-within-a-film horror exercise that Takashi knocks out of the f*cking park. When a young actress is cast in a horror film based on a real life murder spree that happened 40 years prior, the poor gal starts experiencing devastatingly devilish visions and vibrations that only grow worse as time passes. The movie is not only maddening in its mystery, it's unrelenting gore and baleful barrage of different ghosts - 11 in total - make for a truly memorable watch. Props must be given to lead actress Nagisa Sugiura for credibly portraying the role of Yuka. Even when the plot becomes a little difficult to follow, she anchors the film with a prevailing pathos that goes a long way in sympathizing with her ever-growing plight. The poor gal is put through the damn ringer here - physically, psychologically, emotionally - as only Shimizu at the apogee of his filmmaking prowess would allow. A fine effort indeed!

NEXT PROJECTS

As has been the case since the late 90s, it seems Takashi isn't comfortable unless he's got a fistful of irons stoking in the creative fireplace. As you must know by now, his long-awaited, turbulent release of the ghostly-airplane flick FLIGHT 7500 finally, yes finally, touches down on DVD today (April 12th). Until our very own John The Arrow Fallon drops his official review, we can only assume the embattled production shoot and delayed distro-deal won't bode well for the overall film, but at least Shimizu can enjoy a little closure and forge ahead unencumbered. But before we address the future, here's a quick plot-crunch for FLIGHT 7500:

On May 12th, Vista Pacific Flight 7500 departs Los Angeles International Airport bound for Tokyo. The take-off is routine but what transpires over the next ten hours is anything but ordinary. As the overnight flight makes its way over the Pacific Ocean, the passengers encounter what appears to be a supernatural force in the cabin.

Seems cool enough on paper, no? Not sure about you, but I love a good airplane thriller...such inherent tension on the setting alone. And who wouldn't want to be stuck on a flight with Jamie Chung, Nicky Whelan and Leslie Bibb? Can't be all bad, right?

But consider this. It seems like Takashi has been soured by the filmmaking process, or at least the distribution game, and has starkly acted on such disdain. See, his next project due for release is the horror videogame NIGHTCRY, which Shimizu wrote, directed, shot and produced. From what we can tell, it's the first videogame Shimizu has been involved with. Peep the synopsis, you won't be disappointed:

NIGHTCRY is set aboard a luxurious cruise liner, as the ship sails across the deep blue ocean, a series of gruesome and mysterious murders begins to take place. Soon the ocean liner is crippled and adrift at sea, and has become an inescapable trap for the passengers. A female passenger of the ship, will be tasked with solving the murder mystery to ensure their own survival as well as the rest of the 'innocent' passengers.

Looks and sounds pretty f*cking rad, right? Might actually have to get back into gaming just for this one!

OVERALL

GET MAREBITO HERE

It's certainly no leap of faith to believe Japanese horror cinema would look quite different without the contributions of Takashi Shimizu. The man has branded himself and a whole swath of international horror through his distinct style, stark imagery and ghastly subject matter. Whether it's his most well known horror property in the JU-ON franchise - both in Japan and abroad - or his lesser known works like TOMIE: RE-BIRTH, MAREBITO, RINNE, TORMENTED, and others...Shimizu has cemented a lasting legacy over the last 15 years or so. Now he looks to extend his creative reign into the videogame realm. Think he can keep the legacy alive across multimedia platforms? We sure do!

Extra Tidbit: What's your favorite Shimizu film?
Source: AITH

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