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Review © Larry D. Burns, 2005.

Directed by Toshikazu Nagae, Japan, 2002, 74 min. starring Hiroshi Tamaki and Maria Yanagisawa.

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that astounds you. A film that makes you look deep inside for all the questions that humanity poses. A film that once you've seen it, it's very likely that all other films pale in comparison in brilliance, quality, and profundity.

This is not that film.

Although astonishing in ridiculousness, crapness, and pure nothingness, Ghost System proves once again that the best ideas can turn into absolute bollocks when handled improperly. For all intents and purposes, Ghost System has a pretty okay concept. Although clearly ripped off from Kiyoshi Kurosawa's brilliant Kairo, Ghost System strives to have an identity. It's this identity that gets lost big time in its execution.

For starters, it's made with a clearly nothing budget. This, however shouldn't be a deterrent, as proved by numerous directors working on a very low budget yet resulting in brilliant projects Takashi Shimizu's TV Ju-On and Higuchinsky's Long Dream come to mind. The acting is substandard (and with this I'm being kind), but you can get Oscar-calibre actors if the project is really that good. The storyline tries to be cutting edge by jumping from time frame to time frame, but by mid-film, it just proves to be irritating. The special effects (and I use the term "special" loosely) are obvious and cheap, but I suppose with a low budget you can't do anything about that. And with a last-ditch attempt to try to be topical, they throw in a obvious rip-off of Sadako that just makes you wanna gouge your own eyes out!

There are so many things wrong with this movie - and I'm just getting started...

It's okay = no, it's not okay
I'll be right back = we'll never see you again
 

Synopsis

A young woman, Misaki, wakes up in a cell, and through her narration, we learn she doesn't know how long she's been there, or if she's still alive. The scene then jumps to another time frame, where we see her in school uniform, wondering about the whereabouts of her best friend Mai who has been missing for some time. She is joined by Mai's boyfriend, Wataru, and together they wonder some more abut the whereabouts of Mai. As if sensing an opportunity to freak them out, Misaki receives a message on her cellphone from Mai's phone! Shocked by this, she checks out the message, to find it's nothing but a picture of some trees in a forest. She shows this to Wataru, who then checks his cellphone and finds the same picture message. All of a sudden, he exclaims "This was probably the last place she's been! We have to find her!" And, I suppose since Misaki has nothing better to do but comb a forest and look for a particular tree, she agrees.

They trek through the woods like Hansel and Gretel, looking not for a gingerbread house, but the tree in their phones, all the while conversing lightly about this and that. But Misaki gets a strange feeling as if they're being watched. As they trek further, they come upon the tree in the photo. I don't know about you, but to be able to identify a single tree is the work of a true botanist. That must be Wataru's college major or something. They find the tree but no sign of Mai. Checking the photo again, they notice the picture has a new addition - MAI, her head bleeding, hiding behind said tree. Misaki's feeling of being watched intensifies, and true enough, something happens that renders them both unconscious. Odd that.

Misaki wakes up later and finds Wataru gone. She ambles through the forest looking for him as she stumbles upon a huge, decaying building while she narrates, "Loomed before me was a huge, decaying building…" And the winner of the "stating-the-obvious-award" goes to...! She enters the said building, which kinda looks like a cross between an unfinished amphitheater and an abandoned clubhouse, and before you can say Sadako, she sees a translucent woman in white ambling her way towards her. As she turns to run, she runs into a woman who asks her to come with her to an isolation chamber where "they" can't get in.

While in there, the woman introduces herself as Ryo, a scientist working on an experiment right there in that there building. She has developed a "Ghost System", a computer system that enables them to call on the spirits of the dead in hopes of finding out the about the afterlife. Ryo goes on through this litany abut the mysteries of life and death, all the while Misaki just sits there, head tilted to the side, almost as if half-listening. Ryo then brings her to the heart of the Ghost System, where I half-expected Misaki to exclaim "But, it's just a giant fan…" to which Ryo would reply "No, it's a set piece remnant from The Crystal Maze". Ryo then tells Misaki that she has been conversing with Mai. This piques Misaki's interest, if a bored-looking teenager in a bad film badly acted and badly directed is capable of having her interest piqued. Ryo leaves the room to turn on the Ghost System and sure enough, Mai appears. Misaki begins to ask her questions, but freaks when Mai begins to attack her. Well, if you would call slowly shuffling your way towards someone attacking.

In another room, Wataru wakes up and finds Misaki, Mai, and the heart of the Ghost System. He balks at what he sees (naturally) and proceeds to drag Misaki away - but not before Mai makes a revelation that shocks Misaki, causing them to separate again. Misaki finds her way back to the huge, decaying building where she finds Ryo in a state of shock, because the Ghost System has gone haywire and there's nothing they can do to stop it! Oh no! Oh Calamity! Oh Woe!

What happens next is for you to discover. That is, if you haven't been turned off by what you've read so far. Suffice to say, nothing much happens after that, or in fact in this entire movie. It's clearly a made-for-television movie, and the filmmakers made no attempt to disguise this.

The camera work is practically static, with the occasional Evil Dead-like camera riding through the forest. The actors aren't, well, acting, as they mull about the film looking like they're patiently waiting for their paychecks to arrive. The production design was non-existent. There was nothing to distract you from the ridiculousness of the goings-on. The graphics are annoying, as are the sound effects. And the narration running throughout the movie turns overly irritating, like the patently deluded writer probably thought they were Edith Wharton or Henry James or something.

The film tries to be a cautionary tale about the advances in technology, that some things should not be meddled with, but it just turns into a giggle-fest that quickly develops into a turgid, pointless irritation. There isn't any conviction involved in bringing the project to life - the producers have simply ridden in on the coattails of the current Japanese horror boom.

Maybe that's unfair. The producers probably just wanted to make a simple movie with however little budget they had and hoped for the best. They probably weren't striving to be the next Ring or Suicide Circle. And unfortunately it's that kind of sloppy and complacent attitude which has been sadly increasingly typical of mainstream J-Horror of late and probably one of the reason why Korea is producing better movies at the moment.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film - with apologies to Spinal Tap:
Ghost System: Shit System

Films in a Similar Style: Every post 1997 J-Horror movie ever made

*** Awful ***

A big Snowblood Apple thank you to Loz Gladden for giving us his copy of the movie. Thanks Loz!

Ghost System Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2005

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Toshikazu Nagae
Hiroshi Tamaki
Maria Yanagisawa

Links

http://www.metamovie.de/film/ghostsystem.html - a very funny and sharp insight from Harald at metamovie.de which sums up the essence of the bizarre 'Ghost System Franchise' perfectly
http://www.nixflix.com/reviews/ghostsystem.htm - Nixflix gave it 1.5 stars out of 5, which is approximately 1 more star than we would have given it ;-)
http://www.hkflix.com/xq/asp/filmID.529795/qx/details.htm - short synopsis at HKFlix with some technical specifications

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