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Shikoku (1999)
Director: Shunichi Nagasaki

review by Steve Anderson

You ever wonder about the Japanese? I do. I wonder about them every time I slide one of their movies into my DVD player. They have a real talent for not being average. Their movies waver wildly between the outlandish and the patently dull. They create movies that make more sense played in reverse than played normally. Their movies are about insane roommates, insane family members, aliens, giant rubber phalluses - you name it, chances are the Japanese have a film related in some way or another to it. Shikoku, however, fits pretty squarely into the 'patently dull' category.

So what we have here is the story of some strange doings on the Japanese island of Shikoku, and the return of our heroine Hinako to same. Hinako's been gone for quite some time, and when she returns, things rapidly snowball into a really big problem. Hinako's old friend Sayori died while Hinako was away, and Sayori's mother isn't taking it very well. Which would be bad enough, except Sayori's mother happens to be one of those Shinto priestesses, and a Shinto priestess slowly going bughouse with grief over her daughter's death means some real nastiness afoot. Sayori's mother's been on a pilgrimage these last few years, visiting all 88 temples... but in reverse order.

By now I've got some idea of what you're thinking. 'So?' you're thinking with a resounding yawn. 'She went to a whole bunch of churches.' Well, out in Japan, going to all 88 temples in reverse order, on foot, is supposed to - and get a load of this - release the spirits of the dead and turn the entire island into the Land of the Dead.

Wow. Who would've thought a walking tour of an island roughly the size of Connecticut could've had such incredibly spacetime continuum altering consequences? And then, we start following the investigation of the main characters. A longer, more drawn out investigation you'll never hope to find. The worst part is, if you don't pay attention to literally every pico-second of the movie, and occasionally rewind to go over the sticky parts again, you will never hope to understand a single event that takes place in Shikoku.

Frankly, I think that's a pretty big problem. A movie shouldn't have to be studied, be dissected like a frog in a high school biology class, to be enjoyed! I had some serious problems keeping up with Shikoku in places, and it shows in the narrative. Trying to figure out just what it is that's going on in Shikoku is a seriously difficult process. The ending is truly deranged, as Samiya's mother gets what she wants, but discovers that it really isn't. Check out the exchange between Samiya and her mother with 20 minutes left to go:

SAMIYA'S MOTHER: "Yes! I've done it! I've circled the island and raised you from the dead! Now you can become priestess of the Land of the Dead!"

SAMIYA: "No! I hate you! I hate this house! I'm gonna run away to Tokyo, become a bukkake star, and sell my panties for hundreds to sex-starved morons everywhere!"

SAMIYA'S MOTHER: "This is the thanks I get for circling the island backwards on foot to raise you from the dead, young lady?"

No, seriously... that's not what happens. What actually does happen is pretty clever if I understand it correctly, which is usually a possibility with me. All in all, Shikoku is deranged, disturbing, and almost impossible to follow. It's slow of pace and lacking in the department of making sense. But for those who are willing to undertake a great cinematic quest, they will be fairly well rewarded with a massive epic.

The DVD special features include a behind-the-scenes featurette, various audio and subtitle options, and interviews with director Shunichi Nagasaki, as well as actresses Chiaki Kuriyama and Yui Natsukawa.

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