Curse, Death & Spirit

Directed by Hideo Nakata
Distributed by AsiaVision
Running Time: 65 Minutes
Price: $19.95

By Jon Minners

It's finally here.  Urban Vision's new live action import line is here and if there were any doubters out there, one look at the company's first release; Curse, Death & Spirit will silence and potential critic. 

We've all sat through so many live action Asian films; some very good ones at that, but most turned out to be God awful movies mocked in their English dubbing, often lacking any real plot outside of sexual frenzies that seem to go on from one scene to the next. 

But AsiaVision is different.  Created by Urban Vision, a company that has a track record for being ultra-picky and only putting out the very best, AsiaVision seems to be on the same track to give viewers something worth watching and then watching again and again. 

Curse, Death & Spirit is a collection of three short horror stories from Japanese director Hideo Nakata, who received international acclaim as the director of the Japanese hit Ringu/Ring, the $158 million worldwide box office sequel; The Ring 2Nakata also served as the writer and director of Japan's 2002 release; Dark Water, which was remade into a U.S. film, starring Jennifer Connelly.  His earlier work; Curse, Death & Spirit, a television anthology series that is kind of like Tales from the Darkside or Twilight Zone in the U.S., showcases the style of smart terror that made him the famous director he is today. 

All three titles do not have the greatest special effects in the world, but that is ok.  Special effects are really just a lazy tool people use to distract people from the lackluster areas of filmmaking that Nakata seems to excel and specialize in; writing, plot development, acting and character development.  Nakata truly masters these crafts, providing us with three full, rich, in-depth tales in only 65 minutes of time.  A great director can say more in less time and be effective in doing so.  Nakata does just that with each tale.

The Cursed Doll is the story of Satomi, a girl who hears a voice calling her in her dreams.  As she follows the voice, she discovers that a doll is the source; a doll that has been with the family for some time, coinciding with the death of the older sister Satomi never knew.  Her sister died in fire that Satomi survived as a baby.  The story is rather creepy. 

Anyone who has been around dolls at all entertains the notion of one of them coming to life (my mother's extensive collection includes a similar traditional Japanese doll as in the movie).  Unlike Chucky, this story contains no campy humor to quell the fear, especially the unforgettable look on the doll's face when she cuts her eyes at her sister.  And just when you think a tale of two sisters reunited will end happily, you are sadly mistaken.  The Cursed Doll was a great way to start this DVD, but the best was yet to come. 

The Spirit of the Dead was equally chilling if not a little predictable.  The story revolves around a widow who following the death of her husband, takes her son on a camping trip, hoping to bring some life back into her son's life.  The family outing disrupted by the appearance of a female specter who once lost a child and now believes the boy is her own.  The specter in this film is downright frightening, perfectly crafted to look like someone who has been through a heart wrenching ordeal, has been physically broken and yet, is thrilled to see her son; a face that could crash a ship and send chills down your spine with every look.  But from the beginning of the film, it is understandable why the boy is drawn to her presence.  Smart writing.  The end, while predictable was heartwarming and spiritual.  This story was just simple fun along with being freaky. 

It was the third story that truly made this film tick.  The Haunted Inn begins with three girls who decide to take a vacation at a traditional Japanese inn.  Unaware of the tragedy that occurred there, they find themselves in the presence of a spirit who forces them to repeat the events of that day.  This film is the most impactful story due to the character interaction and development. 

Viewers will instantly like all the characters involved, which was a similar feeling I felt from the first story.  The story is just perfectly mapped; moving along at a good pace, giving viewers hints of what is to come, but never exactly giving too much away until the conclusion when a being that seems to come straight out of The Ring or The Grudge appears on the screen asking not to be left alone of the inn inhabitants.  It all leads up to the adrenaline rush of an ending that will leave you with a number of emotions whirling inside of your head.  Viewers will be saddened by what occurs, smile at heartwarming ending and jarred by what a simple bottle of nail polish could mean for the future. Simple, but effective. 

The 65-minute compilation is shown in original Japanese audio with subtitles, but no English dubbing, presenting the film as it was meant to be seen and not dumbed down by nonsensical voice actors who don't understand or appreciate the genius before them.  The stories tell a lot in a limited amount of time, present likable characters that draw the viewer to the premise of each story and uses subtlety to scare you.  You will never look at dolls, water or a simple bottle of nail polish the same way again.  Finally, true horror the way it used to be done; the way it should still be made. 

Extras also include previews to upcoming AsiaVision titles including Azumi and Kill Devil; two spectacular looking films I cannot wait to examine in full.  Kill Devil looks like Battle Royale: The Movie; only the way it should have been made.  Azumi looks to be a fun and violent action film.  What a launch.  It looks like 2006 will be the year of AsiaVision.  Don't miss a moment. 

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