Although if taken at face value “Shirome” may sound like a fairly typical and rather uninspiring slice of teen friendly J-horror, following a pre-pubescent idol band called Momoiro Clover wandering around a haunted school, there’s something surprisingly clever and cruel lurking beneath the surface. Playing out as yet another fake documentary/found footage type, the film actually revolves around the premise that the young girls themselves are quite unaware of what is going on, thinking that they are going through it as a staged piece of television in order to win the right to compete on an upcoming music talent show.
What may also come as a surprise for some is that the film was directed by one Koji Shiraishi, who recently whipped up a fair amount of notoriety with his sadistic torture outing “Grotesque”, which was dramatically banned outright in the UK. This controversy aside, Shiraishi actually has a very impressive and varied list of horror films on his CV, including “Ju-Rei: The Uncanny” and “Carved: Slit-Mouthed Woman”. The helmer has also worked in the fake documentary form before, having been responsible for arguably one of the best entries from anywhere in the world with “Noroi: The Curse”.
Keeping his background in mind, “Shirome” seems like a very natural choice for the director, being a wickedly manipulative and highly amusing film that openly plays around with the conventions of the form to hilarious effect. The film works precisely because it is incredibly convincing, with the exact look and feel of the kind of kawaii fluff piece it pretends to be, the girls spending a large amount of the running time trying to pack in as much over the top posturing and melodramatic overacting as possible, showing off for the camera and generally being hugely annoying. This is where the film really scores highest, as although clearly a comedy, and never anything even approaching frightening, it has an oddly unsettling air of voyeurism, as it’s never quite clear how much of the girls’ fear is real, the director only rarely letting the deadpan approach slip with a few instances of hilarious post-production special effects.
Shiraishi definitely seems to be having a great time on a personal level, playing himself as the director who leads the initially boisterous girls through the school, pushing them to fulfil their task of singing their hit single in front of a strange butterfly symbol. This provides the film with a great deal of comedy, as do the appearances of a mock-grim man who turns up as part of the program to soberly relate to the girls the urban legend of “Shirome”, a ghost who supposedly either grants wishes or drags souls to hell – his speeches generally being met with anguished high pitched howls from the girls.
These moments of course only make Momoiro Clover’s ordeal all the more amusing, and whether the viewer is aware of the practical joke nature of “Shirome” certainly dictates the likely enjoyment level. For those going along with the gag, it’s one of the best and funniest, and in its own way the cruellest uses of the fake documentary style and an incredibly entertaining and intelligently playful piece of fun that will hopefully find a wider audience. The film certainly proves that there is far more to Koji Shiraishi than gruesome sadism, and in fact if anything suggests that a re-evaluation of “Grotesque” itself might well be in order.
Kôji Shiraishi (director) / Kôji Shiraishi (screenplay)
CAST: Kanako Momota