Film & DVD Review
A mysterious letter, the only clue left for Karou Yoshikawa to search for her missing brother and the reason behind his sudden disappearance. Her blind but relentless search leads her to Kozukata Village, a cursed and insane village where people are mesmerized by the power of the Kakashi (scarecrow). A series of strange matters will happen.
Kakashi is another Japanese venture into the suspense thriller genre, a genre in which I think they are among the best in the world at successfully creating. With Kakashi, I went into viewing it in the best possible way - I knew absolutely nothing about it, not a single thing.
The best way for me to start to describe the story, I believe, would be to quote the opening text to the film, which sets a very eery mood. I've tried to keep the paragraphing as similar to the intro as possible.
'A long time ago, ancient Japanese farmers used burning odors from human hairs or animal's bodies to scare away wild beasts that harm the fields. This method was called "Kagashi".
Later, they discovered these wild beasts embodied evil spirits. They then erect man like figures in the fields to scare the beasts away.
These figures are called "Kakashi", scarecrows as we know it.
Aside from the power to defy animals and evil spirits, Kakashi can also attract gods from heaven to protect the feilds.
Legend has it that all "man-like figures" embody goodly spirits, and so do Kakashi's. But the "gods" that Kakashi call upon the earth can be "unkind"...'
"Women drivers... always going the wrong way."
The main plot, however, I'm only going to cover briefly as, for Kakashi, trying to explain what happens I believe will give away too much information prior to you viewing the film. Anyway, the opening text is then followed by a brief glimpse of a fire, and a girl screaming "Why is this happening?" The entire opening is interspersed with the opening credits, so this serves the purpose of breaking up the scenes, as we next see things when they are much calmer, and with no evident relation to the opening fire scene, showing that that scene was either something from the past, or something in the future and what we are now seeing is the past. Either way, it catches your interest!
The film progresses at a slow pace, but we learn that the main character Kaoru (Maho Nonami) is searching for her missing brother. She has next to no information about his whereabouts, as his landlady has not seen him recently, the only possible clue being a letter from a girl called Azumi, from Kozukata Village. With nothing else to go on, she heads of to this village.
"The light brings out my good side, I think..."
Upon arriving she quickly discovers it is not a place that is friendly to outsiders. Locating Azumi's household, she learns from her parents that something has happened to her, and she's not around there anymore. Despite this, at night she is certain that she sees Azumi, and her brother (her original reason for going to the village), but everytime she does, she wakes up as if it was only a dream.
As she becomes closer to the truth about what is happening, and why the village has many scarecrows, the villagers become even less friendly towards her, and start attacking her. In the process, she discovers something quite extraordinary and frightening about the village, making her even more determined to find her brother and leave as soon as she can. With only Azumi's father being remotely friendly towards her, she manages to make him tell her the truth about what is going on, about her brother and Azumi, and about the Kakashi Festival, and why she must leave before it is too late.
"Is that a scarecrow on your truck, or are you just pleased to see me?!"
Some of what I've written there may sound a little cliched, I know, but I don't really know ow else to describe the film's story. While bits and pieces about the village and its inhabitants are given at times along the way, knowing too much prior to viewing would definitely take away quite a bit of the surprise, so I have deliberately been as vague as possible.
Anyway, enough of this rambling, the main question is "Is the film any good?" as that is really all that matters. Well, it is not bad, but it is nowhere near as good as it could have been. The main reason for this, in my books, is that there is very little character development, and there are so many aspects to the story which we are never told which would have linked everything together more coherently. For me the most evident missing info is the background history between Azumi and Karou. At one point, through Azumi's diary, we do learn something about their past relationship, and the odd sentence is mentioned prior to that, but at that point it is a little too late into the film. In fact we are not given enough information about the relationship between any of the characters that would have developed the story more, and made you feel more for the characters. More about her brother, and what had happened to him that made him go missing would also have been good, even if it was towards the end that it was told. All we have is near the end a scene that will make you ask questions like, "Ummm... How?".
"I spy with my little eye..."
There is also the character of Sally Cheng (Grace Ip). What is she doing there? We are told that the village is a very close and small village. Most people there are people that have either been there all their lives, or people who were from there and moved away, but were drawn back. The village is in rural Japan, so why is there this Chinese girl there? I know that may sound a little strange asking that, but quite a few of the lines which she speaks are in Cantonese, which for her character does imply that she has not been there all her life, like the other inhabitants. We do learn that she is staying there for her father, but there is not enough explanation about her story and father to explain why she is there. Granted it is very easy to overlook this completely and just accept her as a character, but when you see the film and think about it, it doesn't really make that much sense.
I think the lack of character development and background info is really the biggie as far as
problems for Kakashi. There are other things, one of them being a big continuity error: towards the end at one point a woman (not going to say who!) is in a field with a lot of kakashi, we know she doesn't go anywhere, but very shortly later she is not there, and she should be! Ooops!
"Don't mess with me, I look evil!"
Actually, no, there is one other criticism that I've got for Kakashi. Throughout the film, there are moments when I felt the suspense building up and was expecting something to happen that was going to scare me, and the longer it took for this to happen, the more the suspense built up. Because of Hollywood films and the way they handle suspense horrors, you do expect something to happen on screen with the sudden loud noise to make you jump. In Kakashi, this rarely happened, which in my mind is a good thing, as that way the suspense just keeps building up, and the film has the potential to genuinely scare you, unlike the cheap jump tactics that pretty much all Hollywood films use. It has been done very well before in films like Ring (NOT the US remake - the original Japanese version), the suspense builds up slowly but steadily throughout the entire film, and then there is that big finale which sends your heart pumping. That is the feeling I was heading for with Kakashi, the suspense was building up, things were beginning to happen, the pace was getting more frantic, but the big finale never really came. Well really, the finale did come, but it was very much a let down. There was no real scare, and the ending as a whole was very weak. Basically, for me, the suspense lead to nothing, which was a real shame.
"You know, they're right. There is light at the end of the tunnel!"
There definitely are good qualities to the film though. Some of the cinematography is stunning, especially in the big outdoor shots, and the acting is good too, particularly by the villagers. While most of them are only really in the film for seconds to a few minutes, and most don't have any lines, through their facial expressions alone you can tell their feelings about an outsider being in their village. As the film goes on, those expressions become more and more menacing. The film also features Kou Shibasaki (the hot evil chick from Battle Royale) in a rather short role as Azumi. She pulls this character off pretty well, with the evil looks when necessary, and also the contrasting loving happily content look too. All in all, the performances were good.
Kakashi really is a hard one to judge. As a suspense film, it built up a lot of suspense, but it went nowhere with it. As a thriller, it had a really good potential with its story, but the big chunks that seem as though they are missing harm it no end, leaving it as being a little confusing and having more questions left unanswered than there really should be. Now I don't like my films to be tied up nice and neatly at the end, with everything answered and it all finished with a nice little bow. God no. Having questions unanswered at the end is good, as it makes you think more (take note Hollywood - see your The Ring for example) once the film is over. But there are good questions and bad questions that can be left unanswered, and in Kakashi there are too many bad questions, questions that really should have been covered by the film.
"Really, you must read it. It is such a great book!"
While it is not bad, Kakashi should have been better. The story is an interesting idea, but with the weak ending and other faults, it must be relagated to the "Could have been great" pile.
Audio & Subtitles
The audio for Kakashi is Japanese DD2.0. On the whole the soundtrack was pretty good. I noticed no distortion in anything, the volumes levels were good, all the speech was perfectly intelligible, and the background sound effects were all nice and clear. Really nothing much to fault.
The english subtitles were pretty much on par as well. There were a few instances of the wrong tense or something along those lines, but nothing that stopped the subs from making sense. No lines appeared for too short a time on screen, and they were removable. They were presented in a bold white font, with a black border to the letters, making them perfectly legible at all times.
"Would you look at what I've found!!"
The picture quality was something which I was pleasantly surprised about. At no point throughout the film do I recall seeing any speckles, blotches, marks or anything like that on the screen. If there was anything, I'm pretty sure it must have been very small and only have been there for a frame or so. It really was a very clean print. In a few scenes there was a little bit of grainyness to the print, mostly evident in the darker patches of the darker scenes, but fortunately nothing too off putting. The only downside to the print is the colours. Blacks were not that black, being more a dark gray, and shadow details were not that great. In some places it did seem like it was either dark gray, or in light. However, the poor and slightly pale colour reproduction was only really evident in the dark scenes, in outdoor scenes, particulary the scenic field with mountain/hill backdrop ones, the picture looked great. Lovely greens with the field and hills in the sunlight. Basically it is a nice looking print.
DVD & Extras
For extras there isn't really that much to choose from, it is all just your usual Universe fare. There are star files (in english and chinese) for Maho Nonami, Kou Shibasaki, Grace Ip, Shunsuke Matsuoka and Norio Tsuruta, the film's trailer and trailers for Sakuya, Happy End and The Isle. C'est tout.
"Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go!"
In conclusion I think that Kakashi had the potential to be very good. The story, if more had been made of it, was a very interesting idea, and the performances were all good. The ending may have needed a bit of work to give it that good finish that it so desperately needed. However, as it is, it is only an interesting but slightly confusing film, that is ultimately quite disappointing.
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