Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sweet Home (1989)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa became the darling of the art film set with his Tokyo Sonata about a family in turmoil. Everyone of the reviews mentioned how he started his career as director of horror films and thrillers, but it was very clear that with very few exceptions none of the critics who had fallen in love this this new property had seen any of his previous films before his discovery.

I've been a fan of Kurosawa's since I first saw some of his films in the mid 1990's. There is something profoundly disturbing about his films in away that hangs with you. Take for example his film Kairo (Pulse) from 2001 which is about the end of the world due to an intrusion of another dimension into this one. There is nothing really graphic about the film but there is something disturbing about its images and story that fill you with dread. Its not your typical horror film and the fact its not typical works against your feeling normal during it.

Actually the really strange thing about Kurosawa's career is that he started out making straight on genre films. One of the first horror films he made was the haunted house tale Sweet Home. The story is as straight forward a haunted house tale as you can get .

The plot of the film is simple. A film crew heads off to the wilds of Japan to film part of a documentary about a well know n artist. they are hoping to film at the long abandoned house where he lived because the walls are said to be filled with paintings the artist did that no one has ever seen. Stopping to pick up supplies and directions they head off before the locals can mention that the place they are going is haunted.

Once the crew gets to the house things are fine for awhile, but then night falls and the shadows begin moving and growing, objects come to life and a vicious spirit begins to dwindle their numbers.

I love this film a great deal. Its everything you'd want in an old school haunted house tale. Hidden rooms, scary ghosts, dark secrets and just a touch of humor. Its a creepy little film, that has a few scares and more than it's fair share of tension. Its damn near perfect. Honestly the film haunts me at times with the any shadows I see coming from a dark room making me wonder if they are going to claim me.

The effects are completely old school. Make-up legend Dick Smith went to Japan and over saw the creation of ghoulies and ghosties and they are very much not computer generated. The monsters are there in the room with the actors and it helps to create a real sense of tension.

Actually the fact that Smith was involved with the film has always confused people looking for this film. Why would a film with special effects by one of the masters of the art not be seen in the United States when the film was extensively covered in the genre magazines? I have no idea. That question has always confused me. I mean Dick Smith's work was the reason that I searched for the film for many years before I finally got a copy from Video Search of Miami.

One of the reasons that I love this film is the ending. It satisfies me. Its an ending that makes sense. It doesn't go on too long, it doesn't give you an unnecessary gotcha, its perfect. The story goes to its conclusion and then ends. Certainly the film kind of continues through the end credits but what you see there is purely just an exclamation point on what you've just seen.

I know some people have seen it and not liked it. They see the end and then ask "and that's it?" and I tell them "that's it", which annoys them. It annoys them because they wanted something bigger, something with a gotcha, something that the mindless Hollywood horror films of the last twenty five years have programed them into expecting, no ending.

I think the film is a masterpiece.

Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa doesn't think so. Kurosawa, from what I've read, almost disassociates himself from the film since for him it was just a work for hire. He is of the opinion that he'd have done it all differently had he been allowed to do it his way. I'm sure he would have, but I don't care, I think he's wrong. I think the film is near the top of its type.

As far as I can tell this film really isn't officially available anywhere in the world right now. When I picked up a copy a few years ago it was from Video Search of Miami, who still have it. I'm guessing that this is going to be a film you track down from the gray market or a collector, but its worth the effort.

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