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Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

home the house imp

The Takahashi family consisting of mother, father, 2 kids and their elderly grandmother move to an idyllic thatched house in the country in Iwate prefecture. The father who is working for a food company has been shipped out there as his ideas for trying to sell something new didn’t work out in Tokyo. None of the family are happy at being there especially the mother and elder daughter though the father tries his best by saying it’ll be cheaper for them to live there. All have trouble adapting to their new way of life and it gets worse when strange things begin to happen for some family members. The grandmother keeps staring into the roof void of the house and then the children begin to see a young face appearing through the window. As things begin to get worse and the family are close to packing up and leaving, they discover the source of the problem………

Some viewers might say that this movie is like a live-action version of Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro as the plot is
quite similar to it and some scenes in fact are uncannily familiar. Whereas that movie dealt with other worldy spirits of the forest, this one has a cute young imp as the troublesome spirit that bothers the family. The young imp is supposed to be a male character (but played by a little girl) who is lonely and plays mischevious tricks on the family like looking in through the window and making noises in the night but he eventually befriends the young boy of the house who sees him sitting on a small shrine in the house’s grounds. The spirit made the last owner of the house who was a foreigner to sell up in less than a year.

home the house imp screenshot

The movie doesn’t necessary focus just on the young imp. The viewer sees how each family member tries to integrate themselves into the local community (the young boy trying to join a local football team and the daughter being invited to the school’s swimming team). The father is also vindicated of his past failures when he persuades a local catering firm in trying out his latest food fads and finds they’ve gone down well with the workers. Just as the family feel like they’ve settled down in their new home and things have turned a corner for each of them, the father is asked to go back to Tokyo and work once more in the company’s head office. I really did think the movie was going to have an ending where the father turns down the offer and wants to stay at their new place but that doesn’t happen. The one thing that confused me about the movie was the young imp itself. It is thought to be the spirit of the grandmother’s brother who died when he was young – bit of a coincidence that he should turn up at the house when the family has no previous connection to the area. Nothing is really explained why he is there.

This is unashamedly a feel-good family movie with hardly any real drama as such. The cinematography showing the stunning Iwate countryside (forests/lush green fields) is fantastic and the house the family share is in such a beautiful location I wouldn’t mind living in the place myself. Director Seiji Izumi isn’t that well known outside of his home country (and I’ve never seen any of his other movies) but I really did like what he achieved with this movie. Apart from the lovely Ai Hashimoto who plays the daughter of the family, I didn’t really recognise anybody else of the main cast though they all perform very well in their roles.

Overall, this is a charming movie to watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon which leaves you with a smile at the end. Definitely worth a look.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Black Butler (2014)

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After seeing the murder of her parents, Shiori Genpo sells her soul to a demon named Sebastian Michaelis who will help her to avenge their deaths. Shiori is a part of a secret force serving the Queen Of The West named The Queen’s Watchdog. They are responsible for stubbing out any criminal elements which are a threat to the Queen. As Shiori’s father ran his own toy company and only males are allowed to inherit his fortune, Shiori has disguised herself as her father’s illegitimate son, taken up the title of Earl and goes by the name of Kiyoharu. Both Kiyoharu and Sebastian have moved into the family’s sprawling estate and mansion which comes complete with a clumsy young maid and other personnel. Kiyoharu and Sebastian are investigating the mysterious mummification of several ambassadors. They narrow their search down to a night club which has organised a special event for certain people. Kiyoharu manages to wrangle herself an invitation to the event but finds her life may be in danger when she discovers what’s really going on.

This live-action adaptation of the popular manga/anime has had a mixed reception amongst fans. Most aren’t happy that the filmmakers haven’t stayed true to the original material. The manga and anime was set in Victorian England but in this movie the timeline has been moved forward to the year 2020 but the biggest gripe of all has been with the character of 12 year old boy Ciel Phantomhive who has been dropped in favour of a 17 year old girl (a descendant of the original Phantomhive family). There’s also a sort of a romantic angle going on between Kiyoharu and Sebastian. I’m guessing the reason for all the changes is to keep the story fresh instead of treading over old ground. Apart from hearing about the anime series, that’s about all I was aware about Black Butler until I watched this movie so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The movie kicks off with a good action sequence which sees Sebastian rescuing Kiyoharu from a human trafficking ring and dispatching all of the bad guys with a butter knife. The movie is fairly dark and involves a plot by an evil organisation to produce a new drug in the shape of a small marble. When the marble is broken and the vapour inside the bottle is inhaled by the person it makes blood comes out of every orifice before the body shrivels up and is mummified. There is an antidote by the evil organization which is only available to them. The movie is a bit of a stop start affair as there are far too many talkie bits just when you think that the movie is about to hit top gear. It hurts the flow of the movie but I guess the filmmakers were trying to drag the running time up to 2 hours. The pace of the movie does quicken near the end which sees Kiyoharu sacrifice herself when a case load of the deadly drug explodes and Sebastian rescues her with the antidote.

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This movie marked the return of actor Hiro Mizushima (best known for being Kamen Rider Kabuto) who had been on hiatus since 2010. He takes the role of Sebastian and performs pretty well in the part of the demon butler especially during his action scenes which are exciting and imaginative. Ayame Goriki does better in this movie than the last one I saw her in (Gatchaman). The verdict is still out whether I consider her to be a good actress or not but I thought she did OK in Black Butler. There’s a weird fascination for Japanese women who enjoy seeing other females dressing up as men (the Takarazaka group for instance) so seeing Goriki disguising herself as a man with an eyepatch will no doubt excite some women even though I don’t think she makes for a convincing man (still looks like a girl to me even with the short hairstyle). That being said, Goriki has a certain charm about her and makes for nice eye candy. The character of Jin the clumsy maid had an unexpected twist to her story though you sorta knew that something was up with her. Near the climax it’s revealed that Jin’s clumsiness is all an act and she reveals her true purpose in the Genpo household. She’s been tasked with protecting the heir of the Genpo empire.  There’s another character whose true intention is hidden throughout most of the movie. Kiyoharu’s Aunt Hanae is supposed to be an ally for her and Sebastian until she betrays Kiyoharu and sides herself with the bad guys. It was quite predictable that was going to happen.

Overall, Black Butler was a decent movie though I wouldn’t say it’s anything special at all. I think it will suit those who have no knowledge of the franchise than hardcore fans. There’s a hint that a sequel might be on the cards seeing that the big boss of the evil organisation is still out there and probably plotting revenge on Kiyoharu and Sebastian.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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SPEC-Close-Progress

Toma and Sebumi become involved in a frantic mission to find a virus called Simple Plan which has the power to kill SPEC holders. The pair’s boss Nonomura who knows more than what he’s telling is also on the hunt for the virus as he doesn’t want it to get into the wrong hands – namely a shady council of various people from around the world that want to unleash the virus. Watching the events unfold are a pair of people named Jun and Sekai. Not only do they have SPEC abilities but they seem to have ‘godly’ powers as well. Toma’s SPEC starts to go strange with a demon seemingly taking her over as she tries to contact her dead brother Youta. It kills her grandmother in an explosion at her house and badly burns Toma. Who will be the first to get their hands on the deadly virus – the powers of good or that of the evil council?

This is the first of 2 SPEC movies that was released in November 2013 to conclude the storyline that started off in the last movie ‘Heaven’. Those who have read that review know how much I love the drama SPEC. It’s one of my favourite recent Japanese dramas. Whilst I enjoyed this movie I did find it had some problems with it. The main problem I found with this movie is the storyline now gets a bit too complicated for my liking and introduces too many new characters. There’s just too much going on and instead of giving the viewer a nice simple plot to tie up loose ends it’s very easy to get lost in it all. I know I mentioned this last time as well so apologies if I seem to be repeating myself. The foreshadowing of a war between SPEC holders and the evil council that was hinted before is now also starting to take shape.

Although the series focused on Toma and Sebumi’s investigations, this movie is mostly about their boss Nonomura. He has an important role to play. Throughout the series he’s mostly been seen as a comical figure especially in his May to December relationship with the sexy young female police officer Miyabi. The humourous scenes between the pair doesn’t feature at all here. I don’t want to spoil things for all of you but the only thing I’ll say is Nonomura goes out with a bang (literally) by finding the virus and refusing to hand it over to the bad guys. He mails it instead to Toma and Sebumi. The bad guys might think they’ve got the virus but Nonomura has switched it with some viagra pills instead! I actually didn’t expect what happened to Nonomura to take place so I was a bit shocked. There is another twist in Nonomura’s tale but to say anything about that would be just wrong! In another plot revelation, the viewer finally gets to discover why Toma’s family were all wiped out. It’s something to do with Toma’s father refusing to help the evil Professor J (the man responsible for cloning Toma’s brother Ninomae) with his work. In his anger and to get some kind of payback, Professor J kills Toma’s entire family but why was Toma spared? It isn’t explained unfortunately!

spec-close incarnation screenshot

Another interesting part of the plot involves Toma’s SPEC ability going rogue and turning into a demon when she tries to use it. She even tells Sebumi to kill her if she starts to lose control. Toma’s ability to raise the dead has some side effects in that her powers start to degrade after time with the demon wanting her to turn against humanity. It takes all of Toma’s energy from making sure the demon doesn’t have full control of her. She feels that she can’t help her police colleagues as the risk in Toma using her SPEC ability again is the demon taking more and more control. I did find it a little bit convenient that Toma just happens to know a scientist that can miraculously provide an antidote to the Simple Plan virus. In the previous movie ‘Heaven’, there was talk about how the 3rd Fatima Prophecy would bring about an apocalypse to the world. This scenario rears its ugly head once again but it’s difficult to know what will eventually happen in the final SPEC movie. Will there be a war? Will there an apocalypse? Who knows! There’s a lot of information to take in for SPEC fans like myself!

Apart from the regular cast who are all brilliant as always, it was great to see former AKB48 member Yuko Oshima as Jun, one of a ‘godly’ pair of SPEC holders who are on the sidelines at the moment watching developments taking place between the rest of their kind and the evil council. Yuko’s SPEC character has an odd habit of hiccupping constantly when she’s talking. I found it to be a little bit annoying but I got used it to it eventually. I must stress as I’ve done with several movies that spin-off from TV drama series in that you won’t have a clue as to what is going on if you just dive straight in without having watched the drama series first.

Overall, I was left slightly confused as to what direction the final movie is heading after this one. The plot was rather heavy-handed, not really resolving anything but leaving enough teasers to make the viewer want to find out the inevitable outcome. I felt the script writers had over complicated matters instead of keeping things simple. It was still very entertaining and I’m really looking forward to the conclusion in the next movie. I just hope I won’t be disappointed. Recommended for SPEC drama fans.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Another (2012)

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It is the spring of 1998 and 15 year old Koichi Sakakibara has been forced to come to live with his aunt Reiko Mikami in a mountainous region as his father is going abroad to work. Soon after moving with his aunt he suffers from a pneumothorax attack and has to go to Yumigaoka Hospital for treatment. Whilst there and going into a lift he encounters a girl the same age as himself wearing a school uniform and a white eyepatch. He thinks nothing about this girl until he goes to his new class at Yomiyama North Middle School and there sitting by her desk right at the back is the same girl. She is called Mei Misaki but what he finds unusual is that everybody in his class including the teachers ignores her like she isn’t there. Koichi tries to talk to Mei but finds out from his other classmates that in doing so he has broken a rule and that people will die because of what he’s done. Every year one student in the class is made non-existent. Koichi doesn’t like this rule one bit. By talking more to Mei he finds out that his class (3-3) is cursed and stems from an incident that happened in 1972 when a female student Misaki Fujioka died halfway through a school year but still showed up in the class graduation photograph. Mei also reveals that she has a glass eye hidden under her patch and that she can see the colour of death with it. Several of class 3-3 start getting killed mysteriously. To help escape from what’s taking place at the school, they are taken on a trip to a remote place. The discovery of an old cassette tape by Koichi holds the key to ending the curse but will he be able to survive long enough for this to happen?

I don’t know why but I was expecting this to be yet another dull J-horror which wouldn’t offer anything new to myself as I hadn’t read anything about the plot. I suppose it was seeing Ai Hashimoto on the poster wearing an eyepatch that caught my attention and made me want to watch this movie. It reunites her with Kento Yamazaki once more with both having played the leads in the fabulous movie Control Tower. This is an intriguing and thrilling supernatural mystery/horror movie set in a high school based on a novel and an anime series with a plot that grabbed me from the start. Thankfully this isn’t the type of movie which is happy to just throw cheap scares at the viewer, director Takeshi Furusawa opts instead to weave a story that steadily builds up dread and tension.

Another screenshot

Although there are several nasty deaths in the movie (a beheading and a female student impaled on an umbrella), the story is more concerned about what’s behind the curse of class 3-3 rather than giving us an all-out gory horror. This aspect certainly made it more interesting for myself. A cassette tape that’s found by Koichi hidden under a cupboard heralds more clues to unlocking what’s going on at the school. The mystery surrounding Mei is also great as the viewer doesn’t know if she’s real or simply a ghost. It also gives us some background on the social interactions that take place in Japanese high schools. Being a newcomer to a school, most people would try and keep on the good side of their peers but Koichi prefers to go against the grain right from the bat. This of course doesn’t go down well and soon enough Koichi decides to join Mei in being the 2nd non-existent person in the class. It makes you wonder how you would feel being a non-entity by your classmates. I certainly wouldn’t like it!

Because this is a low budget movie and despite the great storyline, there is one aspect of the production which brings the whole movie a little bit down and that’s in the sloppy CG effects. It’s a shame about this but it shouldn’t spoil what is a really good movie for the majority of viewers. Ai Hashimoto and Kento Yamazaki are fine in their roles but I did feel that Kento was the better of the two. Ai’s character Mei is probably harder to warm to due to her mysterious personality. There isn’t that much character development throughout the movie unfortunately especially for Mei Misaki who could have done with more of a background story.

Even though I may have griped about some minor issues in this movie, I still enjoyed Another very much. I can’t tell you how close it is to the anime or the novel as I haven’t seen or read them so fans of either may have differing views about this movie to mine but I liked the story very much. All I can say is just give it a whirl and see what you think.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Occult (2009)

Occult 2009

Filmmaker Koji Shiraishi is making a documentary about a violent incident that took place at a picturesque beauty spot overlooking the sea a couple of years previously. A man stabbed several people to death with a knife except for one man Eno who was badly injured. The killer then jumped off a cliff and his body was never found.  The incident was captured on a video camera. Upon reviewing the tape of the attack, Shiraishi and his crew see a strange dark object in the sky. He decides to revisit several witnesses and the survivor of the knife attack to get their views on what they saw on that fateful day. Eno who is unemployed tells Shiraishi that his life changed on the day of the attack. The killer carved a set of mysterious symbols on his back and told him ‘your turn next’. He also claims to see ‘miracles’ regularly – UFO’s in the sky, objects moving on their own etc and a voice in his head that tells him something that he claims he doesn’t understand. Eno believes though that the massacre that took place was a ceremony of some kind. It’s decided to give a video camera to Eno so that he can film any ‘miracles’ that happen. Indeed he does capture several strange events and Shiraishi begins to investigate what the symbols on Eno’s back mean. It’s discovered that the killer had the same set of symbols on his body since birth. As the investigation continues, he is able to find out that Eno has a ceremony that he wants to perform and that Shiraishi himself has a connection to these symbols. What plans does Eno have for his ceremony and why is Shiraishi being dragged into his plans?

I had high hopes for this movie having enjoyed some of Koji Shiraishi’s other work (Noroi and Carved) . His reputation took a bit of a battering following Grotesque, a torture porn horror which was very extreme and disgusting. We are back to familiar territory for Shiraishi with this movie – yes, it’s another mockumentary similar in style to Noroi. The director has a reputation for appearing in his own movies and he takes a central role in this story. I’m a sucker for paranormal stories when they are done properly and this story had me hooked from the beginning as it is filled with elements of Japanese mythology.  It gets even more intriguing once the tale starts concentrating on Eno. The viewer is led to believe that perhaps Eno isn’t telling Shiraishi everything he knows about his encounter with the killer, the significance of the symbols on his back and what exactly are his secret plans? I did like how the story unravelled and with each clue being found leading the viewer to know more about Eno.

Occult 2009 shot

As the mystery deepens there’s a trip to a sacred mountain and even a cameo appearance by another film director in Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Eventually Eno confesses to Shirashi about the mission he’s been given by God, what he intends to do about his own ceremony and Shiraishi himself even takes part in the ceremony preparations. It leads up to a shocking climax which I won’t spoil but the tension really builds up to the countdown of Eno’s planned ceremony. I kept thinking to myself will this ceremony actually go ahead or not and there are ominous signs in the sky. It’s nail-biting stuff that’s for sure.

The acting by the cast is great especially by the man playing Eno. The jarring industrial music used is rather unsettling and adds to the creepiness of the movie. Although the pace of the movie is rather slow at first it does pick up considerably.  If there’s one aspect of the movie which suffers badly it’s in the special effects department. It is truly abysmal and looks very cheap. One scene such as when a man runs across a road and is knocked over by a car really hits home how bad the effects look. The odd shapes that move in the sky also look dreadful. Surely Shiraishi could have come up with something better.

Overall, this movie really delivers on all counts be it the story, characters and tons of suspense. It’s just a shame the special effects was so useless or I would have given it a higher rating. Still, if you enjoyed Noroi you will definitely like this movie.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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In Tezuka Gakuen High School, a schoolgirl by the name of Yuko Yamizaki commits suicide by throwing herself off the roof. Close by where she jumped is a script of a stage play ‘The Blue Eyed Angel’ she had written which was based on an incident at the school that happened 80 years previously in which a girl Sumiko fell in love with a German teacher Eugon Metcalfe. Their affair though was to end in tragedy. Machiko, a friend of Yuko is given the go ahead by the school principal to continue with staging the play as a tribute to Yuko. She finds out that Yuko had discovered a dark secret about the school which was connected to the play and she had put everything on a floppy disk after hacking into the school computer system. Somebody though doesn’t want the secret to be discovered as several of Machiko’s close friends who are investigating this mystery are being murdered one by one.  The police put a persistent detective on the case. What is the dark secret the school is trying to hide and will Machiko survive long enough to see the stage play be performed?

The title of this movie is a bit misleading and I’m sure it will have many viewers will be thinking this is a movie about zombies but I can assure you it’s not. Then again perhaps a zombie movie might have been more exciting than what took place in the movie! There is an explanation about the title of the movie near the climax. The movie was released during a time when J-horror was at it’s most popular with The Ring having been released the previous year. The problem was a lot of crap was churned out during this period in order to try and cash in on The Ring. Studios were just jumping on the bandwagon hoping to make a quick buck. This movie unfortunately is just a standard formulaic murder mystery set in a Catholic school. It failed to engage me with it’s plot (which is full of holes btw!) and was quite dull if I’m being honest. The beginning of the movie suggested that it could have developed into something interesting but it just kind of fizzled out into nothing by the climax. The majority of the characters are suspected of being the murderer because they are made to look suspicious through their actions and the plot tries to throw in a couple of red herrings which fails miserably. Take for example a male student newly transferred to the school. For a newbie he seems to know a lot about the killings yet it is never explained how he’s managed to find out so much though it could be because he dated Yuko. Even the explanation at the end when the murderer is caught about something to do with some paintings was rather lame. By that time though I had become well and truly bored with the whole movie. There is hardly any tension, scares or suspense. The movie meanders along at such a slow pace throwing in the occasional excitement such as Machiko seeing some black robed figures doing some shady deals in the school basement just to wake up the viewer.

School day of the dead screenshot

The acting is nothing to write home about but I suppose Kyoko Fukada who was just a rising star at the time did better than the rest as Machiko. I despair at some of the atrocious acting that Westerners give in Japanese movies and Thame Camus, an American actor who’s quite well known in Japan proved once and for all that he’s got absolutely zero talent. His performance as the teacher Mr Thornhill is plain awful. You just have to see the scene when he has a hissy fit in front of some students when his character discovers paintings of his schoolgirl lover all over a room. It’s embarrassing to watch.

School Day Of The Dead has nothing to really recommend it except if you’re a fan of Kyoko Fukada and want to see her early movies otherwise I wouldn’t bother with it. There are far better mystery/horror movies set in a Japanese high school elsewhere.

Sorry but I could only find a German trailer.

Sadako’s Rating: 2 stars out of 5

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Jiro is a man who can do anything for you for a price. A handyman and part private eye he takes on tasks as simple as clearing out storage lockers to tracking down lost items. That’s what he’s asked to do by a beautiful young woman who shows up at his warehouse living space one afternoon. This young woman asks Jiro to help her track down a lost Rolex watch that she says was accidentally thrown out of a helicopter while she was scattering the ashes of her late father. Jiro knows the story isn’t true, but he needs the money so he and the young woman begin poking around miles of woodland in the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack. Miraculously Jiro finds the wrist watch, but it looks to be caked in rotting meat. Needy but not stupid Jiro hands the watch over to a sympathetic police woman he knows for analysis. Little does Jiro know that the discovery of this Rolex will lead to another case, one filled with violence, sex and danger, one that will lead him directly into the heart of darkness.

The first Night In Nude movie was a bit of a guilty pleasure for myself. It’s gritty noir storyline which took the viewer into the seedier side of Tokyo made for an interesting viewing experience so when I had a chance to take a look at the 2010 sequel (made 17 years after the original) I wondered if this one would be quite as good or not. I’m delighted to say it was and in director Takashi Ishii’s capable hands once more it provides an even darker mystery/thriller storyline which involves child abuse and is disturbing to say the least. This isn’t a direct continuation of the plot from the original movie at all. Naoto Takenaga is back as Jiro who is still taking on jobs that no-one else wants to lay their fingers on. In this story he helps a young femme fatale prostitute named Ren who plays the damsel in distress and who needs Jiro to find a rolex watch. He is given a bullshit story about having ashes containing the watch from a relative of Ren’s dropped in the sea of trees around Mount Fuji by helicopter without knowing the full story of how she, her sister and mother murdered a drunken client of theirs in cold blood and dismembered the corpse by grinding it before disposing the lot. This isn’t the first murder Ren has committed with her sister and mother in which they cash in on the deceased’s life insurance policy. After Jiro is successful in finding the watch he’s given another case by Ren to find a missing prostitute named Tae not aware how close he really is to the person he’s after. Thus begins a dangerous path for Jiro which takes him on a journey involving 3 murderous prostitutes where he makes the mistake of falling for Ren. He gets in too deep when the trio plan on killing Ren’s abusive father in order again to cash in on his life insurance policy and the viewer begins to wonder how the hell he can get out of this conundrum he’s put himself into. To say he’s a little naive is a bit of an understatement but is in keeping with his character from the first movie. Whilst the story doesn’t break any new ground, it’s in the way that director Isshi has crafted the movie using his trademark techniques that really stands out. I do like how lighting and darkness is used very effectively in some scenes and the visual effects is quite impressive. Isshi is well known for his movies which involve a lot of sex and violence and he doesn’t shy away from showing plenty of full frontal nudity in the shapely form of former gravure idol Hiroko Sato as Ren with some graphic gore thrown in the opening 30 mins and a couple of explicit sex scenes as well.

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Naoto Takenaga turns in a solid performance as Jiro. It’s nice to see him not going OTT as he has done in a lot of the roles he’s been given. I thought given the amount of time that had passed since he played Jiro that he would have played him slightly different this time round but Takenaga slips easily back in character. It’s probably Hiroko Sato that stands out more than anybody in a difficult role as Ren who reveals her true intentions in the final third as she plans on killing her entire family and Jiro in a hidden cave system in the woods near Mount Fuji. Yep, Jiro has been suckered and manipulated by a woman just like before. Ren goes a little bit loopy near the climax with her weapon of choice – a taser gun which she goes around zapping her family and the viewer is shown a long drawn out sequence in which Ren imagines she’s naked in the caves and whipping herself to try and forget the pain she endured at the hands of her father who sexually abused her as a little girl and which has made her hate all men. Her psyche has been damaged by what she’s gone through. The rest of the cast aren’t used all that well which includes a female police officer who is tracking Jiro by his mobile phone and suspects that he’s involved with something but she’s not sure what. I hardly recognised legendary Japanese actor Joe Shishido who plays the most sleaziest character in the entire movie as Ren’s father.

If you enjoy watching movies that takes a look into the dark side of humanity and the underbelly of Tokyo that the majority of people won’t be familiar with then you will enjoy A Night In Nude: Salvation.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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