With such a suggestive title, Judge Adam Arseneau assumed Love Ghost to be some kind of erotic supernatural thriller. Rats.
"What are you doing at the library?"
>From the mind of Junji Ito, creator of Uzumaki and Tomie comes Love Ghost, which at first glance appears to be the latest entry in the indistinguishable Japanese ghost thriller genre the country mass-produces at small, efficient automobile rates.
I was kind of hoping it would be more like Ghost Dad, but oh, well.
Facts of the Case
Midori, a high-school girl, returns with her mother to the town she grew up in after many years absent. She is a normal girl in every respect, save for repeated dreams of a man in black clothes, his face obscured, walking slowly towards her. Every night, he comes closer and closer, and she wakes up terrified.
When she arrives for her first day at school, she notices Ryusuke (Ryuhei Matsuda, Taboo), a childhood friend whom she grew up with, and gets reacquainted. She soon makes friends with some of the girls, although some harbor jealousy over her good looks and the way she catches the eyes of the desirable guys.
The girls are big into fortune telling, tarot, and horoscopes, and believe the answers to love lay within. Frustrated with the lack of results from previous methods, the girls consider trying Tsujiura, an ancient fortune-telling technique in which one covers her eyes, then randomly accosts a passerby to ask a question. The answer they give is taken to be the truth.
Sometimes, though, a "not-so-normal" person passes by to answer the question, a handsome boy in black clothes. Rumor has it that if he finds you, he will give you the answers to your questions—but they may not be the answers you want to hear.
Oh, also, he'll probably curse you and he may or may not be a ghost. Just so you know.
Love Ghost is fascinated with elements of beauty, teenage emotions, and the darker elements of the human condition, like jealousy, rage, and resentment, all of which manifest supernaturally, usually in combination with one another. An adaptation of Ito's J-horror manga Lovesick Dead a.k.a. Shibito no koiwazurai, Love Ghost is like a long-lost love letter, capturing the whimsical, nostalgic feel of teenage love manga, with some gore thrown in for good measure. Were it not for the ghosts, the bloody razors, and the psychological twists, one could describe Love Ghost as kind of romantic. Indeed, I think the international title Lovesick Dead suits the film more aptly; Love Ghost sounds like a bad porno movie.
I wouldn't even really classify Love Ghost as a horror movie, at least not in the way we have come to expect horror movies to behave. The film is a thoughtful, detached examination of death and tragedy and lovesickness driving all manner of people to do horrible things to each other, and guilt—lots and lots of guilt. Sure, there's some blood, but it's mostly just tossed in there for dramatic and cinematic effect, giving that wonderful Kurosawa-esque cloud explosion of red against the background. Most of the dread comes from the psychological twists and turns the narrative takes, combined with tarot and horoscopes and teenage hormones all swirling about.
Truth be told, I expected to rag all over this particular title based solely on its title, but I quite enjoyed Love Ghost. The film can't quite decide if it wants to be a bittersweet drama or a ghost story, so it simply goes ahead with both, making no sacrifices on either account. There is something inherently poetic about the film in its tale of childhood memories tinged with teenage regret and love, with the occasional throat-slashing thrown in for good measure.
As the story unfolds itself, the film shifts smoothly between teenage drama, lighthearted romance, and psychological thriller like a Porsche shifting gears. Anyone putting any thought into it will probably keep themselves a step ahead without too much difficulty, but the narrative is strong enough to keep the story moving with no major gaffes. Ryuhei Matsuda, the blank-faced actor best known as the object of desire in Nagisa Oshima's samurai film Gohatto does his blank-faced thing in Love Ghost, having one of the most eerily beautiful poker faces ever. The acting performances are generally good, save for some moments of extreme acting banality. Unless, of course, you like slow-motion Home Alone-style face-slapping screams.
Despite being shot on a shoestring budget, Love Ghost is directed with flair, with some great low-angled camera placement and creepy tracking shots from first-time director Kazuyuki Shibuya. Oversaturated in a palate of florescent whites and hazy blues, Love Ghost has a stylized, dreamlike appearance. Most of the exterior shots are overcast and indistinct, often heavily processed and tweaked by CGI to give them surreal and otherworldly hues. The visual fidelity of the film is amateurish to say the least, but the director has done the most with the material at hand, to impressive effect.
The transfer is decent for a low-budget Japanese film, with saturated colors and adequate black levels, but the image suffers from distracting graininess and some print damage. Overall, the picture is fairly sharp and detailed, and comes off quite nice.
A simple stereo presentation does the job well enough, with acceptable dialogue levels and thin bass. It isn't much to get excited about, but a large part of Love Ghost is silence, so it works out okay. A simple string and piano score creates the right amount of atmosphere without the film feeling over-scored.
Nothing in the way of extras, save for a theatrical trailer and some studio trailers.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Hey, a Japanese ghost story about morose teenagers killing themselves due to supernatural influence.
Admittedly, Love Ghost cultivates a full and lush atmosphere like a greenhouse, but atmosphere can only take you so far. At the end of the day, we've seen it all before. I grow weary of the endless assault of Japanese ghost stories that fail to add anything relevant to the genre.
Within the box of unoriginality that is J-horror films of late, Love Ghost is an admirable performer, crafting a morose, romantic ghost story with just a slight amount of gore. Hauntingly beautiful at times, this is a promising debut film. Sweet and scary is not a combination you see often, and it is a refreshing change from the standard mindless J-horror offering.
Nothing that original, but it does the job quite nicely.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
• Theatrical Trailer
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