NOVEMBER 27, 2011
Some folks think that it’s important to know as much as possible about a movie before going in, but I am the total opposite. Beyond knowing for sure that it’s horror, I’d be perfectly happy not knowing a single thing before I sat down, and that includes the filmmaker in some cases. Certainly had I realized that The Booth (Japan: Busu) was from Yoshihiro Nakamura, the same man behind A Boy And His Samurai (my favorite non horror movie of the year), I would have had much higher expectations. Because it was just “OK”, but luckily I wasn’t expecting much to begin with.
Let’s start with what I liked. For starters, this is a J-horror film from the 00s, but it does NOT have any long haired ghosts or any of the other generic trappings of these movies (including Dark Water, which Nakamura also wrote). Hell there’s even a plot point about a girl being found in a river, which may or may not have something to do with our protagonist, yet we are spared the “dripping ghost” shots we’ve come to expect. Similarly, it doesn’t try to make us afraid of a particular electronic device like some of the others (cell phones, cameras, videos, etc). Even though the entire movie takes place in a booth of a radio call-in show, the “ghost” is tied to the area itself, not the phone. At first I was like “oh Christ, they’ve REALLY run out of ideas”, but the movie could have taken place anywhere and the “ghost” could have used any object to contact him – indeed, at times he just seems to be hearing it “live”, not over the air.
Now, I keep putting “ghost” in quotes, and I hope it’s not spoiling anything to say that part of the fun of the flick is deciding whether he’s just paranoid (think “Tell Tale Heart”) or if there’s an actual ghost after him. A series of flashbacks clues us in to not only the answer, but also rounds out the DJ’s character to let us know that he’s kind of a dick to everyone, not just the girl who may be taunting him through the airwaves. Thus, it’s much more character driven than most J-horror films I’ve seen; more interested in getting into a character’s head than providing “boo!” moments at frequent intervals (indeed, there’s only like 2-3 traditional attempts at scares in the whole movie).
The problem is that it’s just too long, even at 74 minutes. This is very much a Twilight Zone type tale (or better yet, Tales From The Crypt, whose characters were usually this sort of mildly despicable), and would have been amazing if presented as one instead of a feature. As a result there’s a lot of repetition in the plotting (it’s also told more or less in real time, which always results in potential recycling regardless of the type of story it’s telling); the scene with the chess player in particular feels like it’s just regurgitating things we already knew.
It also gets a bit silly at times. A character shows up for work with what seems like the type of wound that a doctor would make you stay overnight to treat properly, yet she just gets bandaged up by one of the other radio station crew members as if it’s a mild scrape. It’s just there to serve part of the twist, and I appreciate the idea, but I think it would have made a bit more sense to have the character come in after having been treated by an actual nurse (I assume we are meant to think the person is a ghost at first; if so it’s not successful). They also get a lot of mileage out of the DJ’s panic about forgetting or not having the names of the songs he’s about to play – do radio DJs in Japan actually tell you the songs they’re playing without fail? I know I’ve certainly never been able to identify good tunes I’ve heard because the DJ was more interested in telling us about their upcoming Acoustic Christmas show or whatever instead of saying “Hey, this is Angie Aparo.”
But it’s entertaining enough, and watching the guy unravel in real time is quite fun. When I think of the other real time movies I’ve seen (or 24), the protagonist is the guy we’re rooting for, not the one you eventually kind of want to see dead. Not that he’s a full blown VILLAIN, but he cheats, he treats others like shit, etc – I’m certainly not hoping that ghost leaves him alone. Ryuta Sato does a laudable job of walking that line between hateful and sympathetic; if the movie was remade in the US I could see a guy like Bradley Cooper having fun with the role, as he excels at playing that sort of “likable douche” character.
Tartan’s DVD has a few extras, most of which focus on Sato. Nothing too exciting, and it’s a shame that Nakamura wasn’t heard from more, especially as this turned out to be his final horror movie as of this writing. His previous films were mostly horror, but after this he has stuck to dramas and comedies – did he just lose interest, or was he just taking jobs in order to build up some clout in order to the sort of movies he was more interested in? Either way, we got Boy And His Samurai out of the deal, so it’s not the worst thing in the world, but still, kind of a bummer he has seemingly left the genre behind. Japan’s Cronenberg!
What say you?