Thursday, 7 July 2016

#29: Requiem From The Darkness (2003)

Director: Hideki Tonokatsu
Screenplay: Hiroshi Takahashi, Sadayuki Murai, Yoshinaga Fujioka and Yuu Kanbara
Based on the short story anthology The Wicked and the Damned: A Hundred Tales of Karma by Natsuhiko Kyogoku
Voice Cast: Toshihiko Seki (as Momosuke Yamaoka); Ryusei Nakao (as Mataichi); Sanae Kobayashi (as Ogin); Norio Wakamoto (as Nagamimi)

Synopsis: In Edo era Japan aspiring writer Momosuke (Seki), who write children's riddles and desires to write a collection of hundred ghost stories, meets a trip of supernatural figures called the Ongyou in his travels. The trickster and leader Mataichi (Nakao), a diminutive priest who uses powers of illusion to distort reality; the puppeteer Ogin (Kobayashi), a voluptuous and beautiful young woman who uses a doll and disguises to create figures of memory; and the shape shifter Nagamimi (Wakamoto), a giant man who can reshape himself into others and is able to communicate with animals. Forcing individuals to confess their sins and punishing them, usually fatal, Momosuke finds himself stuff between normalcy and their circle of the supernatural influence as the dark machinations of the trio travel from place to place.

Like with how fairytales even with their predictable conclusions are so much more rewarding in their flexible storytelling and creating imaginative moments, ghost stories let alone horror tales have the same ability where mood and the journey to their endings are important to them and their ultimate reward. Requiem From The Darkness is an episodic series of grim adult stories wrapped around a sympathetic face, Momosuke, in his interactions with three supernatural beings called the Ongyou, the stories peeling back their interesting supernatural introductions and showing how human beings are significantly more evil than anything already dead. As a warning even to fans of serious adult horror stories, Requiem From The Darkness despite having a lot of its content implied shows no qualms with dealing with taboo subject matter which is going to put some off, let alone the fact that when its shown the gore is strong and graphic. The result is macabre to an extreme particularly against the structure of the show, an intentionally repetitive one where a set-up is created with characters introduced for an episode, the supernatural trio of Mataichi, Ogin and Nagamimi torment a guilty party with psychedelic or haunting imagery until they confess to their crime and are punished. Structurally it's not that dissimilar to a British teatime murder drama where its set-up to when a person confesses to a crime, whether they're revealed to be the guilty party at the beginning of the episode or its kept secret, the only difference being that this is significantly more gruesome with ghostly severed heads, cannibalism and atrocity prints being recreated, all set in a setting with wandering samurai and peasant villages.

The aesthetic style of Requiem From The Darkness is what factors into the show standing out from this style of ghost story. Barring one or two details already dated after ten years - CGI sea effects for example - it possesses an incredibly distinct visual palette that's both beautiful and morbid. The look is comparable to a Japanese art scroll where the ink has melted and the image has become distorted - a historical period found in Japanese chambara (samurai) films but with the supernatural afterlife already effecting the environments with its darkened colour palette and obsession with the run-down and the decayed. Baring some of the main characters and background figures, depicted realistically, most of the cast onscreen is grossly exaggerated and alien, from Nagamimi's stilt legs and lack of eyes to the publisher who Momosuke works for being the size of Jimmy Cricket from Pinocchio (1940), a figure continually cranky due to Momosuke's laziness as a writer. Even a realistic character is Ogin, the pin-up figure shown in nude poses in the end credits alongside giant centipedes and death, has a gothic tone to her in her facial expressions and dress, the Edo period exaggerated to an extreme whilst not losing the historical tone. It's not only the bloody and visceral content which startles but the surreal touches which distort the world's reality, the small details such as the samurai who patrol the streets, and who aren't important characters for an episode, having wooden logs for heads like they were training dummies for trainee samurai or how houses take on the shapes and sizes comparable to German Expressionist design in films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). It's a Japanese form of Expressionism on hand in the show to match its bleak content, of mothers being forced to have their daughters taken away to become geishas or bandits terrorising the locals, where everything is unsettled. The fact that the exact period the show is set in is the transition from Edo period to the Meiji period in Japanese history, where significantly the isolationist policy from other countries for the country would weaken, is a good piece of information to know of as the show has the sense of being a world full of chaos just hidden under the normalcy.

The only disappointment with the series revisiting it, when it's a great little chiller that crawls under the skin, is that its only thirteen episodes long, the last two episodes finishing with a sub-plot where Ongyou start to question the authority figure the trio works for. This would've benefited from having double the amount of episodes if the structure was carefully sculpted and the episodic stories were all interesting, ten or more stories of the gristly and corrupt nature of humanity which would've been incredibly watchable and helped add to the characterisation. It would've also helped with the threadbare continuous plot hidden within the series, of both Momosuke questioning the trio and his romantic longings for Ogin, the additional episodes if done right likely to have helped fleshed out these barely touched upon plot threads. As it stands, Requiem From The Darkness thankfully merely leaves you wanting for more, the abruptness to how its end far from a detraction but a wish that it had lasted for a few more episodes.


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