Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Kakashi



Scarecrow : Japan 2001 : Norio Tsuruta : 86 mins

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
T S Eliot, The Hollow Men

Baffled by the sudden disappearance of her brother, twentysomething Kaoru (Maho Nonami) follows a trail of clues to Kozuata-Mura, an isolated village in rural Japan. There she finds the locals defensive and uncommunicative as they prepare for their annual festival of Kakashi scarecrows invested with the spirits of the dead

Based on a graphic novel by Junji Ito, Kakashi is, most strikingly, a patchwork of references to previous horror movies. Fans of the genre will identify specific incidents that quote from (or, perhaps, unintentionally recall) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978 version), The Shining, The Fog, In The Mouth of Madness and Stephen King adaptations The Dead Zone and Pet Sematary, while the wider structure of Osamu Murakamis script nods to Children of the Corn (also from King), and a pair of thematic cousins from an earlier era of more genteel, British scare-fests: Horror Hotel (1963) and, most strongly, The Wicker Man (1973).

Writing about that film in Cult Movies 2, Danny Peary traces its debt to the seminal 1960s TV show The Avengers, and Kakashi feels, if anything, even closer in atmosphere to The Avengers than The Wicker Man ever managed. Kozuata-Mura is a creepily underpopulated village, and the few countryfolk we see mainly go about their business in ominous silence. The noisiest inhabitant is a sinister policeman who turns out not to be not quite human as we find out when his arm wrenched from its socket in a moment that seems a clear nod to 1939s Son of Frankenstein.

Seems is the word, however – its probably a mistake to infer too many western influences behind whats clearly a very Japanese type of horror, part of the tidal wave of genre movies that followed in the wake of the blockbuster Ring cycle. Director Nuruta was responsible for that movies first sequel, and Kakashi follows the same basic dynamic as Ring itself, with a nervy young woman leaving the safety of the city behind to uncover ancient horrors in the distant, more atavistic atmosphere of the deceptively idyllic back-of-beyond.

The exact what and why of the horror is left somewhat fuzzy, but Nurutas precise handling of tone means that this (like the flatness of the general look perhaps another Wicker Man nod?) isn’t too much of a problem he keeps his nerve, never once giving way to camp or irony, holding firm to a persuasively straight mood of encroaching morbidity.

Is this a dream, or a fantasy? is a line repeated no less than six times, and its clear that Kakashi is on one level a series of interlocking anxiety dreams, the various subplots dramatising the most primal fears (death, abandonment, incest) of family members about their loved ones, not to mention the mutual suspicions between city dwellers and their rural cousins. But this is a chiller with a refreshingly low emotional temperature, judicious in its deployment of shocks and relying much more on spooky silences, pauses, and things not happening. The Kakashis faces are as blank as the cinema screen itself, eager to receive the projected outlines of our deepest fears.

10th June 2002
(seen 13th April, Melkweg, Amsterdam : 18th Fantastic Film Festival)

by Neil Young