Directed by Hideo Nakata
Written by Hiroshi Takahashi, Akihiko Shiota
Cast: Michiko Hata, Mitsuko Oka, Yasuyo Shiratori
1991/65 mins/Color/Dolby Stereo
Full-frame/Japanese/Japan/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Asia Vision DVD
No matter what their career, everyone has to start somewhere. For many of us, our early jobs were after school or summertime activities which were undertaken at local stores or restaurants. These can be easily forgotten or lied about. However, individuals involved in the entertainment industry cannot escape their past so easily. Given the popularity of those "Before They Were Stars" specials which pop up on television from time-to-time, the public is quite interested in the early work of today's entertainers. Japanese director Hideo Nakata made a name for himself for making RINGU and DARK WATER (and then tarnished that name with RING 2). Most filmographies list his earliest work as GHOST ACTRESS (1996), but he'd made a film for television before that entitled CURSE, DEATH, & SPIRIT, which is coming to DVD from Asia Vision.

(Author's Note: The credits for CURSE, DEATH, & SPIRIT are in Japanese and I can't find the movie listed on any website, thus the listing of actor's named in the review will not be complete.)

CURSE, DEATH, & SPIRIT is a trilogy, and keeping with the spirit of the title, each story deals with death and restless ghosts. The first story is entitled "The Cursed Doll". In this tale, a young dancer named Satomi (Michiko Hata) begins have dreams involving a strange doll (which is about three feet tall). One day, she finds the doll in a closet and places it in a room in her house. Not only do the dreams continue, but Satomi becomes convinced that the doll is moving throughout the house. When one of her friends from dance class begins to have visions of the doll, Satomi begins the fear the odd-looking mannequin.

The second story is "The Spirit of the Dead". Following the death of her husband, Takako (Mitsuko Oka) decides to take her son Yuta camping with some friends, as the boy has been very saddened by this event. Once at the campsite, Yuta begins to act very strange, claiming to have seen a woman near a waterfall. Takako will soon learn that this woman is a vengeful ghost who has plans for Yuta.

"The Haunted Inn" is the last story, and it deals with three young women (Yasuyo Shiratori, Yuma Nakamura, Miki Mizuno) who go on a vacation, booking a room in a traditional inn. Upon arrival, they soon learn that the inn was once a mansion, but tragedy befell the owner's family. The girls have two fun days planned, but Yukari begins to act odd and becomes obsessed with a bottle of nail polish which she's found in an old dresser. As the night wears on, Yukari's behavior grows increasingly strange and the ladies learn that the grisly events which took place in the house have a way of repeating themselves.

I would love to tell you that CURSE, DEATH, & SPIRIT is a true find -- an early diamond in the rough from a now respected director. But, it's not. The film does show some flourish of the talent that Nakata would put to use in RINGU -- there are two creepy shots in "The Spirit of the Dead" -- but otherwise this is a very standard entry which certainly feels like a made-for-TV movie.

One of the most surprising things (for me at least) about CURSE, DEATH, & SPIRIT is the simplicity of the stories. "The Cursed Doll" and "The Haunted Inn" were written by Hiroshi Takahashi, who would go on to work with Nakata on RINGU, as well as writing the scripts for RING 0 and CRAZY LIPS. "The Spirit of the Dead" was written by Akihiko Shiota, who has more recently written and directed several dramas in Japan. Despite this clout, the stories fall in line with familiar folk tales and offer few surprises. To be honest, there was only one shocking moment in the entire movie. We know that each story will deal with a ghost in some fashion and from there the rest of the plot is very easy to guess.

CURSE, DEATH, & SPIRIT is also hampered by its medium. The three stories encompass only 65 minutes, but the very tame nature of the tales make some parts seem very slow. Yes, the movie is very, very tame, and save for one shot in "The Spirit of the Dead", there is nothing here that I would call shocking. When a movie fails to make a doll creepy, something has gone terribly wrong. The low-point of the production are special effects. Those of you who watched LAND OF THE LOST and FAR-OUT SPACE NUTS in the 1970s will find the cheesy blue-screen effects in CURSE, DEATH, & SPIRIT very familiar.
We all love a good ghost story, and Japanese filmmakers have proven themselves to be very skilled at making movies about evil spirits. Yet, in the wake of such hits as RINGU and JU-ON, CURSE, DEATH, & SPIRIT looks very amateurish and offers nothing original.

CURSE, DEATH, & SPIRIT comes to DVD from Asia Vision, which is the new live-action Asian film imprint of anime specialists Urban Vision. CURSE, DEATH, & SPIRIT is their first release in this line and while I was disappointed in the movie, I admire Asia Vision for releasing it. The movie is presented full-frame and one must assume that this was the original aspect ratio. The movie was shot on analog video, most like 3/4 inch tape, and at times has the look of a home video. The image is free from grain, but there is some noticeable artifacting at times. The screen often shows visible video noise, and the lights "flare" at times. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital stereo audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. I noticed a nice use of stereo effects on this track and the sound is never muddy or distorted. The English subtitles are nicely done and easy to read. The only extra on the DVD is an "Image Gallery" with stills from the film.





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Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©