Tales of the Unusual (2001) Movie Review

“Tales of the Unusual” is essentially a “Twilight Zone”-inspired movie about 4 very different stories linked by a common sequence. But where other anthology movies usually have a constant theme (for example, horror or science fiction or mystery), “Unusual” goes for 4 distinctively different genres in its 4 story segments.

The film opens and closes with strangers trapped in a bus station because of a torrential downpour. There, they encounter a man in a suit and black shades who tells them 4 stories to help past the time. It’s unclear who the man is, what he’s doing there, or where he got these stories. Then again, what does it matter?

The first tale is called “One Snowy Night”, about survivors of a plane crash in the snow-covered mountains. The segment is essentially a Ghost Story, with one of the survivors being killed and returning to haunt the others. The segment is well done, the writing is strong, and the actors are top notch. There are scares aplenty and for a moment someone even attempted a “Blair Witch”, complete with skullcap and a video camera in close up. (I don’t think there was any nose drool, though.)

The second tale is a mixture of comedy and fantasy called “Samurai Cellular,” where a cellphone appears to a cowardly Samurai Lord in 18th century Japan. The voice on the other end of the cellphone claims to be a historian from 300 years in the future doing research on the life and times of the Samurai, who proves to be more afraid of his destiny than he is of the cellphone. The episode is played mostly for laughs, although the ending is surprisingly poignant.

“Chess” makes up the third tale, and is probably the weakest segment in the entire movie. Besides featuring one of the most obnoxious and annoying soundtracks in modern cinema — well, that really is the only reason to hate this segment. The director quite literally tries to drown us in music, and as a result there is barely two straight seconds when the segment isn’t covered in a showy, pretentious soundtrack that just grinds on you. The segment is about a former chess champion who gets caught up in a chess game involving real-life chess “pieces” that can die if he makes the wrong move. I know, the premise sounds interesting, but you’ve been warned about the music.

The last segment, “Marriage Simulator,” is surprisingly just as strong as the first one. The story is a lighthearted Romance about two 20-somethings who meet, fall in love, and agree to test their love in a futuristic device that can “simulate” what their marriage and life would be like together. The segment works because of two good-looking actors who make us believe what they’re feeling, and an ending that, although sappy, is appropriate.

Of the four tales, “One Snowy Night” rates as the best, and its quality is obviously the reason why it was put up front. “Marriage Simulator,” a strong contender for second place, was used to close out the movie for (once again) obvious reasons. Of the different tales, “Chess” is most painful to endure, with its unrelenting and overbearing soundtrack. “Samurai Cellular” is a harmless tale with some nice laughs, but is otherwise too middle-of-the-road to exist in any other place except squeezed in between the stellar “Night” and the surprisingly effective “Simulator.”

To be honest, I had expected the connecting sequence to have a twist at the end, but sadly there was none. Most American anthology movies are known for their twist, which shocks us by showing that the people listening, or the one telling, the stories are not who they appear to be. There is nothing like that in “Tales of the Unusual.”

Mamoru Hosi (segment “Chess”)
Masayuki Ochiai (segment “One Snowy Night”)
Hisao Ogura (episode “Marriage Simulator, The”)
Masayuki Suzuki (episode “Samurai Cellular”)

Buy Tales of the Unusual on DVD