Directed by Shibuya Kazuyuki, 2001, 95 min., starring Ryuhei Matsuda, Risa Goto, Hitomi Miwa, Asumi Miwa, Kumiko Akiyoshi, Miki Itou and Saitou Yousuke.
I'll make no bones about it: considering that it really was made on the lightest of shoestring budgets as an apparent V-Cinema production, Lovesick Dead (aka Shibito no koiwazurai, or, in a bizarre twist of mad renaming, Love Ghost ) is an amazing piece of work: beautifully shot with stylish visuals, charmingly acted and very entertaining, with genuinely creepy little tinges from time to time that take you by surprise.
Adapted in part from a Junji Ito manga of the same name, Lovesick Dead has a fairly predictable storyline. In fact, within five minutes of the movie opening I had guessed most of the elements of the outcome, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The plot depends largely on garnering a deep emotional empathy with its characters, and employs a lush, melancholic and romantic approach, one that was gently hinted at in Uzumaki and given further room to develop in Long Dream, but even more so here.
At its core, oftentimes Ito's work has a big warm human heart, and that juxtaposes beautifully with the horror elements, lending a real poignancy to events which often destroy the characters Ito is asking you to empathise with. Higuchinsky has understood the perfect sweet-and-sour emotionality in the original manga better than anyone else to date, but Shibuya Kazuyuki also proves with Lovesick Dead that he can use the elusive romanticism of Ito's horror fiction just as effectively to create a beautiful aesthetic. Music here is used sparingly but well, serving to emphasise only the most dramatic of scenes.
The main body of the story itself is as engaging as you might hope an Ito adaptation would be: set in the often-used high-octane emotional situation of an average high-school class, where hormones are running riot at the best of times, it combines traditional mythology with urban legend in a thoroughly contemporary way, much in the same style as Ring; but it also ascribes a myth to a certain location (Nanzumi-shi), in the same way Uzumaki does with the fictional town of Kurouzo-cho. For myself, I haven't read the manga on which Lovesick Dead was based as it's not yet in English translation, but from what I understand, this movie is not as faithful a retelling as Uzumaki was of its source material.
However - and this is a fairly crucial criticism - the plot of the movie is, at one very late point, nearly completely wrecked by the inclusion of a sequence which almost totally severs the viewer's emotional connection with the main characters. Thankfully, the story does manage just about to stagger to a recovery by the ending scenes from what is, in effect, the creative equivalent of a kick in the teeth.
Personally I found this a real shame, as I had been buying into the rather sweet and sad story up until being unceremoniously dumped by the scriptwriter into not only a limp 'big reveal' in a Tale of Two Sisters style, which threatened to destroy the entire carefully-built premise of the whole movie, but also an ending which was both confusing and somewhat unnecessary in the light of previous events.
The heroine of the piece, Fukada Midori (Risa Goto), has a recurring nightmare every night, concerning a small shrine in the town graveyard where fortune tellers go to give readings. The kind of fortune telling practiced in this town, Nanzumi-shi, is called tsuji-ura. Someone wishing a reading stands by the shrine, and asks the first person who comes along to tell them their fortune. Mainly this kind of divination is for romantic purposes, but in her dream, it's always the same outcome: while she's waiting, a young faceless man in black comes towards her and frightens her so much she wakes up.
Midori has a very close relationship with her mother (Kumiko Akiyosho), partly due to the fact that her father walked out on them years ago (shades of Kirie and her father in Uzumaki here). They used to all live in Nanzumi-shi together, but due to her father leaving, they had to move away until they could return to the area now, ten years later.
On the very first journey to her first day of school, having only just transferred, Midori spots the exact same shrine that she's been having those recurring nightmares about, and she faints, falling to the pavement. However, she has a strange vision of a river of blood flowing towards her over the asphalt. Just as she comes to her senses and the vision disappears, a mysterious young man (Ryuhei Matsuda) takes an interest in her, before one of the other girls comes to her aid.
The other girl, Tanaka Suzue (Asumi Miwa), turns out to be a new classmate, and they become friends very quickly. Midori asks the girl if there's any way she can get into the school without passing by the small wooden shrine that frightened her so much. Suzue offers to show her the way, and on their journey, they bump into another classmate, a boy named Tejima.
When they arrive, they're late, but while Midori is introducing herself to her new classmates, she spots the mysterious boy again, who was watching her when she passed out by the shrine. She can't help but look at him throughout her classes, as he's watching her too, and they exchange a shy smile.
However, it would appear that Suzue is beginning to be jealous of Midori: Suzue clearly has a crush on Tejima, who has taken a bit of a fancy to Midori, who has the beginnings of a crush on the mysterious boy. Tejima is a popular lad: not only is Suzue chasing after him, another girl named Tamayo also has a giant crush on him.
It transpires that Midori actually knows the mysterious boy, and even knows his name – Shibayama Ryusuke. They used to be close friends when they were little, and do a little walking down Memory Lane together, and he tells her that he's been waiting for her to come back to the town for ten whole years.
Unfortunately for Suzue and Tamayo, Tejima has gotten a fairly major crush on Midori. In a jealous rage, Tamayo is planning on trying her hand at a bit of tsuji-ura - street fortune-telling, down by the little shrine that frightens Midori so much. At Suzue's house, while all the class are gathered together for a rather dull-looking 'party', Tamayo says she's going to go to the shrine, and give it a go. But Suzue counsels against it, telling Tamayo that street fortune-telling can more often bring bad luck than good - particularly since that shrine was built by a grieving lover, mourning the tragic suicide of his girlfriend due to a bit of tsuji-ura gone wrong. None of this seems to deter Tamayo, though: she's obsessed, stubborn and determined to get her man by any means possible.
That night, Midori has the same nightmare again - but this time, the man in black with the blurred-out shadowed face is coming almost right up to her. When she gets up, though, she can't find her mom anywhere - until she goes into the bathroom, where she finds her scrubbing at a strange mould-stain which she had spotted the day before, which is resolutely refusing to come off. It seems to have grown overnight too, from a small grey mark into a huge great blackish-purple mess. Midori's mother is acting really strangely: she won't stop scrubbing the mark, even though it won't come off, and it would seem that she's probably been trying to get rid of it all night as she's exhausted, feverish and on the verge of collapse.
When Midori gets into school, things go from bad to worse: not only does she find that Tamayo has shredded her shoes with a Stanley knife, she gets tripped up on entering the classroom by a jealous Tamayo, who promptly tries to tell her classmates that Midori's a slut, and to turn Suzue against her - all to no avail, and she runs off upset when they tell her to shut up.
All of this merely serves to provide Tamayo with the final incentive to go and perform tsuji-ura at the shrine, to try and make Tejima her boyfriend. But while she's covering her face and reciting her incantations, what she doesn't see is a mysterious black-clad figure emerging from the white mist which has suddenly filled the cemetery. When she asks the figure if Tejima will ever love her, he curses her, and, shocked and saddened to the core by her curse, she cuts her own throat with her craft knife, blood splattering all over the shrine.
When the news of Tamayo's suicide comes out at school, Tejima finally ends up admitting to Suzue that he has a crush on Midori - and, rather stupidly, he still hasn't worked out that Suzue has a crush on him. This confession drives Suzue to go and perform a little tsuji-ura of her own...
Will Midori be able to find out what's happening? Will she find out the truth about Ryusuke and the mystery surrounding him? And will she be able to stem the tide of suicides connected to the shrine and its bloody history?
Although budget limitations lend the movie rather poor quality sound and little in the way of incidental music, the visuals owe a huge debt to the master of the Ito movie (and also the master of wringing a damn good effect out of two bits of string and a coloured lens filter), Higuchinsky. It's also an incredibly well-composed movie: the shots are often geometric, symmetrical, beautifully put together.
Like Uzumaki, in places it's a joy for the eyes. Shibuya Kazuyuki is evidently a disciple of the great man himself when it comes to producing good quality effects out of zero budget, not to mention extremely talented when it comes to use of simple light-effects. For instance, in one scene where Ryusuke, the main male protagonist played by Ryuhei Matsuda, is walking down a school corridor, his face is almost completely obscured by shadow thrown by the direction of the natural light coming in through the windows, making him look like a faceless shadow - a no-money effect that's genuinely effective. Likewise, the movement and look of the ghosts in the story - the strange gliding body motion, the shiny eyes - reminds me very strongly at times of the ghosts in Kaïro, which was released at around the same time. It's entirely possible that that particular and much higher-budget movie influenced this one too.
Despite its many obvious similarities to Uzumaki, Risa Goto is no Eriko Hatsune - in a good way. She brings considerably more youthful charm and naïve warmth than that to the part of Midori, which the role requires. Interesting also to see a big name like Ryuhei Matsuda (Gohatto, Blue Spring, 9 Souls etc) appearing in what looks for all the world like a teen-drama TV movie. But then, there are quite a few faces here you're going to recognise - apart from Matsuda himself, there's also Asumi Miwa (Uzumaki, Ju-on) and Hitomi Miwa (Eko Eko Azarak III: Misa the Dark Angel, Ju-on, Gore from Outer Space etc) - not a bad line-up for a lowly V-Cinema movie! ;-)
In conclusion, then, Lovesick Dead isn't just one for the Ryuhei Matsuda fangirls - though they will love it and squee everytime their hero crosses the screen - which, actually, isn't as much as you'd imagine. It's one of the best movies I've seen in this genre to date, easily on a par with Uzumaki and Wishing Stairs, and is therefore bound to delight fans of both Ito and Higuchinsky, with an organic and thoughtful feel you don't often find in even the best TV movies. It's a school ghost story of the kind that is often made to appeal to the teenage market in East Asia, but in this case, it's beautiful, atmospheric, sweet, often unsettling and highly charming, with a sadly romantic streak a mile wide, and a genuinely creepy moment or two.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment Value: 8/10 - two points taken off for the dodgy ending
Sex: 1/10, and that only for the briefest of snogs
Creepy Shrines: 1
Creepy Tattooed Ladies: 1
Ryuhei Matsuda: *pout, squee, dies*/10
Litres of Tomato Ketchup: a large vigorously-shaken bottle, thanks to plenty of arterial spurting ;-)
Films in a Similar Style: Uzumaki, Whispering Corridors, Wishing Stairs, Long Dream, A Tale of Two Sisters, Ring, Ju-on (V-Cinema), Kokkuri
*** Highly Recommended!***
Lovesick Dead Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2005
Snowblood Apple Filmographies
http://www.superhappyfun.com - currently the best source of subtitled DVD-R copies of Lovesick Dead, as no subtitled official release exists to the best of our knowledge
http://junjiito.trilete.net/?jid=movies&movieid=mlovesick - the Net's Junji Ito expert, Alexis Glass, gives a concise summary of the movie, with pictures...
http://www.kfccinema.com/reviews/horror/lovesickdead/lovesickdead.html - ...and here is Alexis's fantastic full-length, hugely indepth review at KFCC
http://www.fjmovie.com/horror/t8/49.html - full cast list at fjmovie.com
http://www.foutz.net/movies/shibitonokoiwazurai.shtml - Scott Foutz's review, with commentary and some images