Far Eastern horror films tend to be divisive affairs for Western Cinema audiences, given that there can seem to be about fifteen ideas present when a mere couple would suffice. Getting its Canadian premiere at this year's Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, Yudai Yamaguchi's Rokuroku: The Promise Of The Witch is a surrealist horror fantasy that appears to focus on a series of unrelated stories, but these are merely a backdrop and set-up to the overall story that is unfolding.
It is the tale of two old school friends, Izumi and Mika, who decide to meet up after years apart, having been close during their childhood. As their long-belated meeting is taking place, a series of seemingly unrelated incidents is taking place - unbeknownst to the two girls, frightening ghostly and spiritual apparitions are beginning to manifest themselves. However, a revelation from Mika, which stems from a shared childhood experience, could well be the key to the girls' respective destinies.
Rokuroku: The Promise Of The Witch will appeal to fans of The Ring and The Grudge in both their American and Japanese versions, and there is some additional attraction for fans of Don Cosarelli's classic 1979 horror fantasy Phantasm, with which Rokuroku shares quite a lot in both look and style. The latter film's surrealist worlds-within-worlds (coupled with the unforgettable introductions of the flying spheres that drill into any unfortunate human who cross the lair of The Tall Man) more than compensated for any understanding of the plot.
Be advised, though, that this is a bit of a slow-burner and the multiple stories of unrelated individuals will confuse a little bit. You sometimes feel you might be watching six or seven separate stories which would benefit from those EC-style comic strip segues between the quintet of tales in Creepshow, and they might throw the narrative of the female friends off guard.
If you buy into the cross-cutting of the various tales, then this is quite an effectively creepy yarn. It does suffer somewhat from the familiarity of the Japanese horror hits mentioned, but there are some admirable horror and technical effects.
ROKUROKU: THE PROMISE OF THE WITCH / DIRECTOR: YUDAI YAMAGUCHI / SCREENPLAY: YUKI KAMAGAI / STARRING: MIHO NAKANISHI, SHIHO, KARIA NOMOTO, MOSO CALIBRATION, MICKEY CURTIS / CERT: TBC / RELEASE DATE: TBC