Sunday, July 29, 2018

Fantasia ’18: Rokuroku The Promise of the Witch

These are absolutely, positively not the Yokai of Lafcadio Hearn. They are the work of cinematic provocateur Yudai Yamaguchi, who is indeed Japanese, whereas Hearn was not, much to his regret. Yamaguchi even happens to be a horror movie maker, but he tones down a signature gory mayhem a tad in the strange and spooky Rokuroku: The Promise of the Witch (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Izumi lives with her grandmother and aged grandfather, whom they assume is going bonkers whenever he raves about the spirit in the tree watching him. Yeah, well guess what? There is indeed something malevolent and uncanny afoot. In fact, there are quite a few Yokai spirits preying on people tangentially linked to Izumi.

Initially, Rokuroku looks and acts like an anthology film, with Izumi’s narrative serving as the framing device, but we eventually learn everything is insidiously linked together and rooted in a sinister episode from her childhood. The truth starts to reveal itself when she reunites with her childhood friend Mika. So, what transpired years ago in room 666 of that eerie abandoned hotel? To be honest, Izumi isn’t so sure herself.

Co-written and produced by creature creator Keita Amemiya, Rokuroku has a wonderfully macabre look. Some of the assembled Yokai tales are little more than sketches, but several are strong enough to stand on their own, particularly the story of an art student who falls under the influence of a weeping balcony spirit. Yet, they collectively work together quite cleverly. Miho Nakanishi also hits all the right notes as the somewhat shy, but resilient Izumi.

Of course, the third act is completely nuts, so be prepared and buckle up. Tonally, the film rivals the madness of Obayashi’s House, but it is even more logic-challenged. Yamaguchi and Amemiya practically throw the kitchen sink at viewers, but the film is still considerably less bloody or scatological than Yamaguchi’s greatest hits. Recommended for fans of supernatural horror and cult weirdness, Rokuroku: The Promise of the Witch screens again on Tuesday (7/31), as part of this year’s Fantasia.