Yamagata Scream (2009) Movie Review

Insane Japanese horror comedy “Yamagata Scream” sees popular actor Takenaka Naoto taking up the directorial reins once again, for a very different proposition to his romantic drama “Sayonara Blue”. The film might politely be described as eccentric, revolving around undead samurai, zombies, schoolgirls and pop culture gags, all thrown together in madcap, everything but the kitchen sink style. Taking the lead is teen actress Narumi Riko (“How to Become Myself”), with support from an impressive ensemble cast including veteran Iwamatsu Ryo (“Sawako Decides”), Maiko (“Yama no Anata – Tokuichi no Koi”), EXILE’s Akira (“Be Sure to Share”), R&B singer Crystal Kay, and Haru (“Koizora”), with Takenaka himself making an appearance, along with cult Japanese gore director Iguchi Noboru (“Robo Geisha”, “The Machine Girl”) and others.

The film begins with troubled schoolgirl Mikayo (Narumi Riko) fleeing from her recently remarried father and going on a trip with 3 classmates and her lovelorn teacher (Maiko) to a remote village in Yamagata. The village has a dark past, being the site where a defeated samurai called Tsuzuranuki (Sawamura Ikki), his lover (also played by Narumi Riko) and several of his men were trapped and killed by the locals. After a shrine to the samurai is demolished by the mayor (Namase Katsuhisa) as part of a theme park development scheme, the warriors rise from the dead and set about menacing the populace, with Tsuzuranuki deciding that Mikayo is the reincarnation of his long lost love.

Calling “Yamagata Scream” wacky or far out would be a gross understatement, as the film is a truly crazed affair, recalling “The Evil Dead” and Obayashi Nobuhiko’s classic “Hausu”, mashed together with non-stop random gag skits. The film really does have to be seen to be believed, and is a bizarre affair, even by the not exactly sedate standards of the Japanese comedy horror genre, over flowing with manic set pieces, lots of screaming and face pulling, with a cast that spend most of the running time in hysterics. Although the film is pretty much plot-free, with large swathes being undeniably random and senseless, it has an infectious sense of fun and energy, and whilst excessive is always entertaining.

Takenaka Naoto’s direction fits the material perfectly, painting everything in bright colours and keeping things moving at a fast pace through constantly bombarding the viewer with nonsense of one sort or another. Also adding to the fun are a strange use of classical music mixed with bouncy pop on the soundtrack and some demented special effects, with the samurai being possessed of random and pointless powers such as occasional flight and glowing eyes. Also worthy of note is their talent for bringing their victims back to life to serve them as shuffling, muttering zombies, which they somehow achieve by heaving up huge volumes of luminous blue vomit on demand.

Even if parts of the film are baffling it does boast a very respectable hit ratio with its humour, especially for those who enjoy zany slapstick and off the wall spoofery. The undead samurai make for highly amusing goons, seeming to be quite unsure of their scheme and given to bickering with each other and going off on odd tangents. Fitting into the world of today with an admirable lack of culture shock, it’s impossible not to laugh as they wander around the local convenience store, check out girly magazines, accessorise with modern clothing and generally have a fine old time. The rest of the cast are similarly likeable, with Narumi Riko and her pals never being too grating as the silly schoogirls, and Maiko and Namase Katsuhisa in particular also getting their fair share of laughs.

Of course, given the overall daftness of the film, the horror elements never result in any real frights, with the samurai never being any more threatening than the average Scooby Doo villain. This having been said, it does achieve a very enjoyable level of camp ghoulishness, with a surprisingly high body count as the samurai hack and slash their way through most of the villagers, often quite literally painting the screen red with geysers of blood. Despite this and a few instances of limb, head lopping and even a little chainsaw fun, it’s hard to take any of it seriously, and the film is never gruesome or nasty.

As a result, “Yamagata Scream” is hugely entertaining, and though certainly more comedy than horror, it should be enjoyed by any and all genre fans with a sense of humour. Offering non-stop craziness from start to finish, though it rarely makes any sense, it’s easily one of the most creative and cheerfully absurd films from Japan in some time.

Naoto Takenaka (director) / Yasushi Akimoto (screenplay)
CAST: Riko Narumi … Mikayo Okagaite / Mitsubue
Akira … Santaro Yomosuga
Maiko … Kaiko Katsu
Naoto Takenaka … Yamazaki
Mirei Kiritani … Chuko Kaburagi

Buy Yamagata Scream on DVD