JAPAN 2009  Directed by: Naoto Takenaka Written by: Naoto Takenaka, Yasushi Akemoto  Produced by: Yasushi Umemura Cinematography by: Yasushi Sasakibara  Editing: Yoshiyuki Okuhara  Music: Kuricorder Quartet Cast: Riko Narumi, Akira, Naoto Takenaka, Maiko, Mirei Kiritani, Ikki Sawamura, Saaya Irie, Haru, Yoichi Nukumizu, Tomoe Shinohara, Arata Saeki, Katsuhisa Namase, Saori Yuki, Ryo Iwamatsu

YAMAGATA SCREAM tells the story of an ancient battle that’s taking place somewhere in the Yamagata prefecture 800 years ago when a samurai was buried alive while his love interest was taken away by the enemies. He curses the place and it’s inhabitants and seeks revenge. Many decades later the same place is a sleepy rural village with nothing much going on. Occasionally some naïve tourists end up here accidentally, visiting a shrine erected to worship the samurai and to keep the spell in check.

One fine day three students and their teacher are on a field trip to the village and a series of unfortunate events begins: the shrine is demolished by greedy investors who want to build a theme park to attract more tourists, the samurai awakes and calls upon his army to join him to kill everyone and erase the village from the face of the earth, and one of the school girls is being mistaken for the samurai’s former lover Mitsube and abducted. Once again it’s for high school girls to fight evil creatures and dark powers (and of course scream their way out of the mess they’re in).

Naoto Takenaka is one of Japan’s most talented and prolific actors with occasional excursions to writing and also directing his own films, most notably 119 (a.k.a. QUIET DAYS OF FIREMAN in 1994) and the autobiographical TOKYO BIYORI (1997). With YAMAGATA SCREAM Takenaka moves to entirely different territory, even though he can’t deny his roots as comedian. The movie is a zombie comedy and for the most part it’s pure slapstick.

YAMAGATA SCREAM is a satire that does not only make fun of genre conventions (especially those of Japanese horror movies), but also of formal aspects of traditional movie making. YAMAGATA SCREAM changes its face more than once: one moment it’s samurai cinema, then J-Horror, the next moment it’s a variety show, stage play or just an overly long Japanese TV show. It could be Takeshi’s Castle for all I know if it had more of a stringent dramaturgy (which it hasn’t). If you know Japanese TV shows and their regular display of insanity then you know what I’m talking about here.

This shouldn’t stop you from watching YAMAGATA SCREAM though, because you’d miss an eccentric and highly creative movie that’s in a class of its own. YAMAGATA SCREAM is a rich encyclopedia of horror and ghost movie motifs, intelligent, witty and very enjoyable. Starting with a reference to THE EVIL DEAD’s crumpling bridge and only-one-road-to-hell idea it gets better by the minute with YAMAGATA SCREAM straying through decades of Japanese and international genre movies, ending with – what else – Japanese high school scream-queen-girls kicking the crap out of the zombies hordes.

More than anything though YAMAGATA SCREAM marks the end of the latest J-Horror era that by now has faded away and today seems to be not more than a footnote in horror movie history. The once in-demand movies from Japan are now insignificant at best, and with Takashi Shimizu’s pale SHOCK LABYRINTH and the genre’s most important – albeit not most popular – filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa leaving the genre indefinitely there is little hope that J-Horror will be A-List again any time soon.

For now we can at least enjoy Japanese horror’s “best of” courtesy of YAMAGATA SCREAM, a film that is as much a satire as it pays homage to some of the great works of Japanese cinema. Not everyone will like – or fully understand – the movie, but for fans it’s a scream.


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