Monday, January 31, 2011

The Shock Labyrinth

Roughly two and a half hours north of Tokyo, near the base of Mt. Fuji, you'll find an amusement park called Fuji-Q Highland. The big attraction there is the massive Haunted Hospital, the largest haunted house attraction in the world (according to Guinness). This is the setting for Takashi "Ju-on" Shimizu's first 3D effort, The Shock Labyrinth (2009). The 3D aspects of the production were lost on me -- more about that in a minute …

The Shock Labyrinth is one of those horror pictures that opens with a series of inexplicable images and then sets about explaining them. Slowly. Yes, this film is a slow burn, so much so that I had serious doubts until about 30 minutes in, when things finally started to gel. In the classic formula, there is a woman who has been grievously wronged (to death) and now seeks revenge. In this case, the female ghost in question died as a child, at the hands of one or more of her small coterie of friends, in the Haunted Hospital (they snuck in after hours, got lost, things went horribly wrong, etc.).

Ten years later, the surviving friends are all grown up and having a strange night, particularly due to the fact that the girl they all thought dead has shown up at their door. She's acting weird and soon has an episode that requires medical attention. The group drives her to a nearby hospital -- a hospital that bears an uncanny resemblance to … you see where this is going? Things go from strange to surreal. Are they all dead? Have they entered an alternate dimension? Is all this happening in the mind of one of them? You'll find out, eventually. It's almost as if The Shock Labyrinth was made for a second viewing -- it's so much better the second time around. It's as if you have to get the first viewing out of the way before you can really enjoy it!

Fans of art house auteur Hirokasu Kore-eda may recognize young actor Yuya Yagira from his devastating film debut in 2004's Nobody Knows. He plays the pivotal role of Ken in The Shock Labyrinth. Also on hand, portraying pretty blind girl Rin, is Ai Maeda, who was also in Battle Royale (she was Shiori, and her sister Aki was Noriko). And if you're very observant, you'll recognize Suzuki Matsuo from Ichi the Killer and the risible Robogeisha.

Oh, about the 3D: The DVD package comes in both standard and 3D editions. I tried the latter first, wearing the old-timey red/blue cardboard glasses supplied … for about 90 seconds or so, before ripping them from my face, tears running from my burning eyeballs. Nope, that didn't work for me. But then I'm not a big fan of the whole 3D thing, not even the new, high-tech version you get at the cineplex these days. I find it more a distraction than anything else, another run at the same old gimmick. I caught the end of Avatar the other day on my satellite dish at 1080p and it looked way better than it did in the theater with the friggin' glasses on. I'm guessing the same goes for The Shock Labyrinth. So to hell with the 3D, just sit back and enjoy this enigmatic, ultimately enjoyable J-horror creation in glorious, it-ain't-broke-so-don't-fix-it 2D.