Japanese comedians do crazy stuff to get on TV. In 1998, a comic known as Nasubi was deposited naked in an apartment and told he could exit when he had accumulated ¥1 million in sweepstakes prizes. Fifteen months later he accomplished this feat and emerged from isolation, still naked, but a national celebrity.
A similarly bizarre situation befalls the protagonist of “Stigmatized Properties,” billed as the latest shocker from veteran horror master Hideo Nakata, but also a dark comic glimpse into the stranger corners of the entertainment business. Nakata, who is best known for his seminal J-horror “Ring” films, struggles to bring off this oil-and-water combination: The suspension of disbelief required for horror dissipates when the characters return to the cold, cynical daylight of their workaday lives.
Nonetheless, the film is based on the real-life experiences of Tanishi Matsubara, a comic who has made a career of living in “stigmatized properties” — apartments where sad and terrible things happened, suicide and murder among them. But the reality of the paranormal phenomena Matsubara presents to his audience is, shall we say, open to question. The film hypes its otherworldly entities even further, to the limits of credibility and beyond.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||111 min.|
As it begins, we are introduced to a manzai (comedy duo) act called the Jonathans bombing miserably on stage and, afterward, deciding to call it quits.
But they aren’t ready to abandon show biz entirely. The excitable Nakai (Koji Seto), comes up with an idea for a variety show segment that a smarmy producer (Houka Kinoshita) buys: Have his depressed partner Yamame (Kazuya Kamenashi) move into a stigmatized property and film the spooky stuff that ensues.
At his first apartment, where a murder occurred, Yamame soon senses the ghost of its former inhabitant, which a camera captures as a floating orb. An “expert” panelist for the segment proclaims it the real thing and the producer is overjoyed — but what, he asks, can Yamame do for a follow-up?
The honest answer from Yamame is “nothing,” but he enlists the aid of Azusa (the single-named Nao), a Jonathans fan and an aspiring makeup artist who can see ghosts. At the next apartment, she spots a dead woman in a red dress, who very nearly makes Yamame and Nakai her next victims. The Jonathans, as well as the scared-out-her-wits Azusa, are clearly in over their heads. But the ratings are super — and the show must go on.
Nakata’s most famous character, the revenge-bent ghost Sadako from “Ring,” had a terrifying presence that seemed to come from a place of belief or experience, not musty folk tales or faded childhood nightmares.
Some of that conviction has carried over to “Stigmatized Properties,” particularly by Nao who pulls out all the stops in her performance as Azusa: Her encounters with the uncanny almost unhinge her. But the film also gives its spooks all-too-real living features and even flashbacks to their troubled lives, which serves to dilute their power, edging toward the ridiculous.
On the plus side is the wonderful Noriko Eguchi, playing a mysterious real estate agent who spreads out her flyers for stigmatized properties like tarot cards and unctuously thanks a flummoxed Yamame, her regular customer, for taking them off her hands. At once funny and creepy, she nails the mood the film should have had all the way through.
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