Every August, Japanese horror films appear in theaters here, cashing in on the traditional belief that chills from scary stories help beat the summer heat. And every August, critics lament that they don’t match up to the products of J-horror’s glory years — the late 1990s to early 2000s.
For example, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2001 apocalyptic shocker “Kairo (Pulse)” presciently and powerfully warned of the soul-sucking dangers of the online world, especially the creepier corners where sad ghosts dwell, alone with their perpetually glowing screens.
By coincidence, two horror films that open this Saturday for one-week runs, followed soon after by DVD releases, show the “Pulse” influence. While lacking its visionary impact, they are clever-enough variations on the now common theme of the dodgy website where the wrong click opens the gates of hell.
Soichiro Koga’s “Reikai no Tobira Sutorito Byu” (“Gate to Another World: Street View”) consistently delivers small shocks on the way to a quietly chilling climax not so easy to see coming, though logical given all that comes before.
One fine summer’s day, college student Ako (Marie Ono) returns home to find her younger sister, Mana (Rino Aoki), missing. The only clue to her disappearance is her PC, which is linked to a Google Street View page of an empty nearby house — and a ghostly looking figure that seems to be emerging through the door. Accompanied by her down-to-earth friend Sachi (Ayano) and a brusque real-estate agent, Ako explores the actual building — and feels the presence of something uncanny.
Soon after, in a nearby park, she meets a little girl with an empty expression and tousled hair who is not from the neighborhood — and maybe not of this world. Then Manabe (Yuki Hiyori), an oddball occult buff acquainted with Sachi, warns her that if she continues her search, she might find herself in danger — not from angry ghosts, but rather the inhabitants of a parallel universe.
Despite this sci-fi twist, “… Street View” relies mostly on familiar J-horror scares, including those borrowed from Kurosawa. The girl, though, creeped me out in a different way I shouldn’t describe — only that it has nothing to do with fright makeup, and everything to do with her evil little heart.
Jiro Nagae’s “2channeru no Noroi Gekijoban” (“Curse of 2channel, The Movie”) was preceded by a DVD series that similarly exploited the phenomenon of 2channel, a gigantic chat site whose anonymous posters range from the expert to the certifiable.
Having not seen the DVDs, I can’t say how “… 2channel” builds on them, but story-wise it is a standalone. Also, the film trades on the popularity of the girl idol troupe Aidoringu!!! (Idoling!!!) by casting two of its members — Chika Ojima and Manami Nomoto — in lead roles. Ojima, especially, turns in a solid performance that ranges from steely-eyed gutsy to fall-on-the-floor gobsmacked.
She plays Kaede, who is caring for her sick younger sister, Itsuki (Nomoto), and working for a cleaning company that specializes in tidying up the aftermath of death, natural or otherwise. One evening at the hospital, Itsuki, Kaede and her boyfriend, Shuhei (Daichi Saeki), check out a 2channel thread that threatens visitors with a deadly curse if they click onto the “red room.” Naturally, they click, but nothing happens — immediately.
If you have ever seen a J-horror film with a vengeful female ghost — that is, the great majority — you know what’s coming, though “… 2channel” takes its sweet time explaining why and how its spook got its rage on. Meanwhile, Kaede’s job puts her and her no-nonsense boss, Kanamoto (Jun Yamazaki), in close contact with the gruesome and, as it soon becomes obvious, the ghostly.
Horror veteran Nagae and his staff don’t do anything particularly new with this material, but they do occasionally take it up a notch, as when Kaede plunges her hand into a bathtub filled with … let’s just say objects that I viewed from between my fingers.
“… 2channel” tells a mystery as well as a horror story, so I shouldn’t say too much more about its plot, including its framing story, only that it is both twisty and unreliable. In this way it resembles its inspiration — a site on which everyone hides behind a mask and spouts rumors, wild guesses and outright lies, together with the occasional fact.
Neither “… 2channel” nor “… Street View” herald a J-horror revival, though they do bring a contemporary edge to standard genre tropes. If the Internet doesn’t frighten you, they imply, you aren’t paying attention. Kurosawa, I think, would agree.