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Takashi Shimizu, an icon of modern Japanese horror cinema thanks to his hugely successful “Ju-on” series and its Hollywood “The Grudge” remakes, returns with “Shock Labyrinth”, the country’s first full length live action digital 3D feature. The film is actually based upon ‘The Haunted Hospital’, apparently world’s largest walk-through haunted house attraction, located in the famous Fuji-Q Highland theme park. Although a film inspired by a fairground funhouse may sound a little dubious, the production is filled with Shimizu’s trademark surrealism, featuring an offbeat and ambitious narrative alongside plenty of scares and visual flourishes. The film has a cast of popular Japanese stars, including Ai Maeda (“Death Note: The Last Name”), Suzuki Matsuo (“Robo-Geisha”), Misako Renbutsu (“The Battery”), Shoichiro Masumoto (“Tokyo Gore Police”) and Yuya Yagira (“Nobody Knows”). Thankfully, the film retains its gimmick on the small screen, with the DVD release through Chelsea Films coming with both 2D and 3D versions, as well as a couple of pair of red and blue 3D glasses.
The film kicks off with a young blind woman called Rin (Ai Maeda) being reunited with childhood friends Ken (Yuya Yagira) and Mikoto (Ryo Katsuji) after a long separation. Weirdly, another friend also shows up, Yuki (Misako Renbutsu), who just happened to have disappeared some ten years back during a late night visit to a house of horrors at the Mount Fuji theme park. When Yuki has a fit and collapses, the others rush her to a hospital, only to realise that they have somehow ended up back at the same haunted building where she went missing. When she vanishes yet again, Rin, Ken, Mikoto and Yuki’s sister desperately search for her whilst unravelling their memories of what actually happened on that fateful night in the past.
Takashi Shimizu is a pretty logical choice for a film based upon a theme park ride, with his “Ju-on” films being at heart haunted house affairs that delighted in having their ghosts leaping out suddenly at the audience. This obviously also makes him a pretty good candidate for a 3D film, and “Shock Labyrinth” performs very much as expected on this score, with numerous shots of things flying into or clutching at the camera. The film clearly enjoyed a decent budget, with 3D digital effects and CGI of a reasonable standard, and though they don’t really count for too much on the small screen, they still help the film to stand out and add a little extra fun to the proceedings.
All of this works quite well, with plenty of spooky action and supernatural goings on, though it’s fairly obvious that the film was primarily aimed at a younger audience, without anything too threatening, nasty or indeed frightening. Whilst this in itself may disappoint genre fans who require something a little more adult than a floating toy rabbit to give them the chills, the film does have Shimizu’s usual sense of the bizarre, with a good few memorably strange and surreal moments. The film is also very atmospheric and eerie throughout, showing an excellent use of lurid colours that do give the feel of wandering through a creepy sideshow. Though rarely getting the pulse racing, the film is reasonably tense, and does pack in a few genuine jumps and neat touches along the way.
Also in its favour is a surprisingly ambitious fractured narrative, which like that of “Ju-on” leaps around in time, often without any warning. Shimizu actually pushes the boat out pretty far in this respect, as he overlaps the past, present and future to entertainingly baffling effect, making the film unpredictable and offbeat right through to its amusing final twist. This isn’t to say that the film actually makes any sense at all, and it quite cheerfully flies in the face of logic and common sense, though thankfully not in an obscure or annoying way. It helps that though the characters aren’t particularly well written, the cast are all likeable enough, or at least aren’t too grating, and so their endless wandering around never becomes tedious.
Although “Shock Labyrinth” isn’t really among Takashi Shimizu’s best work, it’s still an above average and perfectly enjoyable slice of Japanese teen horror tomfoolery. The 3D gimmick earns it a couple of extra points, though it must be hoped that further films which make use of the technology do so for more than just innocuous flying stuffed rabbits.
Takashi Shimizu (director) / Daisuke Hosaka (screenplay)
CAST: Ai Maeda