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Scary True Stories (1991)
22nd Jan 06
Load of Japanese scary story shorts, mostly involving restless spirits and schoolgirls.
Japan has really picked up its game in recent years in terms of its horror output, so much so that it now has as many clichés as the West does. Whereas the hockey-masked killer killing half-clothed teenagers is a quintessential American tradition, what do you think of when we talk about Japanese horror? Undoubtedly you think long black hair (since Ringu this has been a prerequisite of all J-Horror), but you might also think of ancestral spirits, revengeful ghosts and maybe even kitchen knife wielding schoolgirls, Battle Royale style? Well, if you have and that kind of thing is your cup of tea, then you can’t go much wrong with Norio Tsuruta’s Scary True Stories.
Originally made for TV in the early 90s, this was Tsuruta’s directorial debut (he went on to direct Premonition and Ring 0) and first collaboration with Chiaka Konaka (whose recent writing credit Marebito impressed the shit out of us at the 2005 Frightfest). Broadcast as three shows with three short stories in each, the influence on the future of J-Horror is sometimes obvious, sometimes stretching it a bit, but always the common themes of Japanese horror stories resurface regularly. These are - simply listed - vengeful ghosts that have been wronged, protective ancestral spirits, long black hair and Japanese school girls in peril. The results range massively as Japanese TV production values vary from show to show (the earlier episodes in particular appear much cheaper) and, it being TV, there is nigh on a complete lack of gore.
But what the shows can’t do is made up for with what they can, as here you’ll find lots of dark corridors, flashlights, spooky atmospheric music (which stabs at the right moments), some clever pre-CG camera trickery and liberal use of suggestive editing which almost tricks you into thinking you’ve seen stuff that you actually didn’t.
Here’s a brief episode rundown.
The Lonely Girl A young Japanese schoolgirl is late leaving the swimming baths and has an scary encounter with something in one of the other changing cubicles.
Spiritual Flight A young girl dreams of flying, and finds a shuttlecock she thought she’d lost ages ago, thanks to her dead Grandmother
Mystery of the Red Earring No matter how many times the young Japanese schoolgirl in this story throws that ruby red earring away, it keeps coming back. And what are those strange sounds at night?
The Gymnasium in Summer Three Japanese schoolgirls spend the night in a gym, even though they know that someone died there last summer when the renovations were being carried out. Has a brilliant scare involving a ghost in a red dress.
House of Restless Spirits A young family move to a new town because of the father’s work, only to find out their new house is already occupied with some unwanted guests. Yes, the family includes a Japanese schoolgirl in it, and a mother who thinks she’s losing it. Pretty scary actually.
The Hospital at Midnight A night nurse recounts the tale of a patient who comes back to say goodbye even though he died yesterday. No schoolgirls in this one, which was a bit confusing.
Be Gone Crone! A witch scares the crap out of a Japanese schoolgirl by screaming through her window. Scarier than it sounds.
My Friend at the Stairwell One of the scariest of the collection, thanks to some very creepy cutaway editing, very reminiscent of both Ringu and The Eye. Two girls find a shortcut to class involves a back staircase with a blood stain on it. But wait, wasn’t that a young boy standing in the corner there?
Paralysis Woman has sleep paralysis and sees a lot of weird shit. I didn’t really get this one, although the zombie babies holding her arms and legs were really cool.
The Black Hair in the Abandoned Building Another good one. Three teenagers check out an old abandoned apartment building only to find a box with a long black crop of hair in it, cut off at the pony tail. Then they find the ghost it belongs to, and it chases them out of the building in a photo-negative kind of way.
As you may have guessed, the quality of the ghost stories does improve a lot as the tape rolls, and the burn-out you feel from watching short after short is soon forgotten, especially as you approach the final three stories. But whether or not I can recommend this as a keeper is another story. Sure rent or borrow this baby (‘My Friend at the Stairwell’ completely deserves to be seen at least once), but I doubt it would have much replay value.
Still, if you’re a big fan or J-Horror and are keen to see some of the oldest contemporary influences, this might just be a must purchase, especially if you’re into the whole Japanese schoolgirls versus vengeful spirits thing. I know I am, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.