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Cursed (2004)
Director: Yoshihiro Hoshino

review by Tony Lee

Not to be confused with Wes Craven's disappointing werewolf flick of the same title, this Japanese ghost story is about a haunted convenience store, where corporate employee Ryôko (Kyôko Akiba) arrives to negotiate a franchise contract with the mini-supermarket's tragically antisocial owners, Mr and Mrs Kitaura. The couple are surly, unhelpful, and switch from morose CCTV watching to cackling mania without even pausing for breath. A frustrated Ryôko ends up doing the inventory, but she befriends "cheerful and energetic" checkout girl, Nao (Hiroko Satô). Crows are killed when they fly into the market's plate glass window, but that's only the start of a series of uncanny and frightening events. Boggling eyes peer out from shelves of cans at the back of a fridge, and from the inside of a toilet cistern. A silent and mysterious, parka-hooded visitor bizarrely disfigures friendly nightshift clerk Komori (Takaaki Iwao), and on her way home from work, Nao is pursed and assaulted by the same faceless spectre. One of the least fortunate shoppers at the less-than-busy store encounters a monstrous homicidal stalker, and Ryôko's boss - terminally depressed paraplegic Tejima (Susumu Terajima) - apparently commits suicide...

In his filmmaking debut, Yoshihiro Hoshino displays a weak grasp of narrative cinema techniques, and is guilty of one too many borrowings from the likes of The Grudge and the widely acclaimed Ring trilogy. Yet, among the excess of recent imitations and Hollywood remakes of those popular cycles, Cursed (aka: 'Chô' kowai hanashi A: yami no karasu) boasts far and away the most enjoyable scenes of eerie strangeness and awesome wonder. A cranked up, mega decibel music soundtrack pounds viewers' eardrums without becoming maddening like those overworked hip-hop or thrash metal scores of comparable American productions. Hoshino cannily focuses our attention on minor incidents (the menacing figure only visible in mirrors, the child's ball bouncing from the pitch darkness of an alleyway, fearsome sonic bursts and source-less gusts of wind which emanate from the stockroom), before orchestrating a barrage of simultaneous-jeopardy scares.

Despite the somewhat mediocre payoffs, the anticipatory build-up is tremendously well achieved. Images of urban decay signify thematic concerns of neglect and betrayal. In daylight, the dusty old shop-front looks like it might be abandoned. Disclosures about suspect building materials used in this otherwise respectable retail outlet's construction fall short of adequate explanation for all the malevolent goings-on. Ryôko and Nao meet in a playground and talk about their sensitivity to the spirit world and, when they leave the parkland, the chains supporting perpetually moving swings tie themselves up in knots. There appears to be no escape or respite from the power of evil. Unable to offer protection to terrified young Nao, never mind solving the problems of the lost-to-madness Kitauras, a grimly fearful Ryôko seemingly quits her job. The delightfully creepy ending reveals, at last, what prompted the opening scene's blood splattering, shocking death. The circle of cause and effect may be a closed loop but the story here remains incomplete. Is there no rest for the wicked?
Cursed

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