July 6, 2011

Shirome (2010)

Horror x J-Pop. Grotesque director Koji Shiraishi has been rejected by UK’s BBFC, and slated as copycat hack by others. But he’s more than that – he’s the director of the very best J-horror ghost film since Ringu: Noroi – The Curse (2005). He’s also the director who ought to have the entire faux documentary genre copyrighted to his name – not because he invented it, but because along the years he has made it his own.

At the other end of Japanese entertainment world stands Momoiro Clover, yet another recently established pop idol group, courtesy of Stardust Agency. The girls, aged 13-16, are well known stars today, but not in early 2010 when director Shiraishi first approached them. Momoiro Clover was in a need of publicity, and Shiraishi wished for a new project. What the crew came up with wan an idea of an idol documentary for TV, with Momoiro Clover visiting a haunted house. The legend says that the spirit in the abandoned school building can make wishes come true. The legend also tells more than a few people have gone mysteriously missing in the same building.

Not a standard gig for teen idols, it was nevertheless an opportunity to gain publicity. Part of the deal was, of course, that the girls would be performing their new song in the school building and wish luck for the upcoming Kohaku utagassen song competition (which would be on Japanese TV on New Year’s Eve). With Shiraishi the girls would be in good hands – he has experience from working with idols (as do many other Japanese film directors from Sion Sono to Nobuhiro Yamashita, all if whom have worked in idol videos). Time to roll cameras.

What Shiraishi didn’t explain the girls, is that in reality he’s making a “horror movie”, all the people around them are hired actors, and there’s a special effects team doing live work around them. The poor girls were clueless of their starring role in a horror movie.

Morally questionable and damned funny, Shirome is one of the best things to happen to J-horror since Sion Sono. It’s not a brilliantly directed film by any means, in fact there’s a lot to be improved on, especially towards the end that goes on for too long. Yet, at same time it’s a real treat for anyone who can see the simultaneous genius and ridiculousness of both idol and j-horror scene. It may come out as a bit of a curiosity for J-outsiders, though, but at least random laughs ought to be guaranteed to anyone.

Momoiro Clover themselves are a rather typical J-idol group, although at the time of filming still in the process of mastering their kawaii-skills and personal roles (the youngest of the bunch is the “sexy momoclo”, of course…). Shiraishi takes enough opportunities to include these idol routines in his film. As trained performers the girls know how to run a show in front of camera, even if unaware of the film’s true nature. This is what makes it all the more exhilarating when real scares enters the frame and the show girls find themselves in doubt whether something is seriously wrong. Is Momoclo being cursed?!

What Shirome stumbles with most, is deciding what it wants to be. The catch is a must know for audiences – without knowing it’s a candid camera show it would come out as just another average, if not below, genre film. Yet, it’s actually not explained until the end, although much of the film’s advertising material does indeed reveal it. Shiraishi went as far as to add special effects into the film, for the audience’s scare. It does not sink the film, and can actually be taken as joke to certain extent, but does nevertheless provide a jarring element into an otherwise excellent pic.

Despite its flaws, Shirome is a Red Bull Six Pack for J-horror genre, and comes warmly recommended to any idol fan not so serious enough about their love to curse Shiraishi to seventh hell for what he has done here. In fest circuit at least, it ought to be minor hit among J-aware cult audiences. Oh, and to those wondering about the film’s last scene: only she was acting!

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