By Chris Hammond
I was surprised to see that the man that first introduced North American audiences to J-horror elements like Guttural groans, tedious tension, and ghosts had a new film that didn’t seem to have much fanfare until now. Takashi Shimizu is back and although striking fear is what he does well, the new film Howling Village offers a more mysterious plot and family drama than the regular run-of-the-mill jump scare. The film is full of peaks and valleys, which at times simmer a slow burn. This most enjoyable romp will keep fans of J- horror films glued to their seats. Sure, it may not strike as solid fear as JU-ON, but the new elements of mystery and use of real-life “Dark Tourist” or Urban Legend site really add an impressive mix of folklore and fear.
I had a chance to get some words with Takashi Shimizu and below are some of the insights that we discuss. When asked how excited he was to share his film Howling Village with a US/Canadian audience through theatre, Blu-ray, and streaming services in just a few short days Shimizu has a very to the point reply
‘I’m very excited for audiences to see my Howling Village film”, The movie was released last year in Japan”
The Inunaki folklore has many different interpretations and legends behind it here are just a few. The Inunaki Village came to be during the early Edo period. Many ill-treated peasants choose to live in exile there cutting off all ties to society.
The Village was ravaged by disease, some say it was a Leprosery colony. To stop the spread of disease the authorities locked it down prohibiting anyone from entering or leaving the village. Soon the village was full of the dying and the dead.
Inbreeding/Human behavior was abandoned and finally, anyone who goes into Inunaki Village never comes out alive.
When asked about Howling Village (Inunaki Village) and its real-life Urban Legend/Dark Tourist location, Shimizu had this to say
“Inunaki Tunnel is a real thing and Inunaki Village really only exists in folklore, actually it only exists in folklore. There are many locations in Japan with folklore as Japan has a long history with Urban Legends”
The film is written by Shimizu and Daisuke Hosaka who work together well and have also collaborated on the upcoming Suicide Forrest Village (2021). The film centers around Kanae Morita (as played by Ayaka Miyoshi), a psychologist who can see spirits. The movie opens with Yuma (Ryôta Bandô) and his girlfriend Akina (Rinka Ôtani) around the nearby “Inunaki” village. They investigate the Inunaki tunnel where things take a turn and neither of their lives will ever be the same. Akina, who remains in torment from her visit to the Howling village soon falls into madness and kills herself (one of the cinema’s most shocking deaths). This suicide has the inklings that it was very complex to pull off. Shimizu had this to say about the shooting of this scene
“I knew it was going to take a long time to shoot this scene, so I allowed a whole other day just to film this. The whole shooting of this scene took about 45 hours to complete. It was difficult for the actress as she had to hang upside down from a crane. They would bring her up for ten minutes and lower her down for ten minutes at a time until the scene was finally complete”.
Kanae’s life is forever changed, her brothers set out to find answers to why Akina went mad. Both Yuma (Ryôta Bandô) and Kota (Hinata Kaizu) go missing investigating the real-life locations Inunaki Tunnel/Inunaki Village. Around this time Kanae starts seeing more unexplainable things, finally, she is made aware her brothers are missing and she sets out to investigate her brother’s disappearance while also discovering a dark family secret. The film does a good job of setting things up to explain things that happen in the second and third acts. Akira Morita (Masanobu Takashima) plays a father who is head of the household. He dictates how things are and how they will be within the family. He condemns his son in one scene for even going to Inunaki Village saying “You have the same filthy blood as your mother”. This gives the audience a glimpse at a family secret without showing all the cards. Slowly but surely throughout the film more bits and clues to these family secrets are revealed, sometimes leaving even more questions until finally, the puzzle pieces fall into place (without diminishing the tension).
The use of “Urban legends” is nothing new to film, Skinwalker’s Ranch, The Mothman, Villisca Ax Murder House. But Shimizu introduces these legends to audiences in a way that exudes true fear and not in a way that belittles the people who believe in them. The Inunaki village and tunnel are not the only folklore that Shimizu and Hosaka feed off of. They have also mixed in elements of “Inugami”. The inugami is a mythical Japanese creature. It resembles a dog-like being. The film deals with this in a way that adds a new element to the already engaging plot. Some family bloodlines can be more susceptible to possession with these vulnerabilities being passed down via the family tree. The practical effect use on the Inugami’s are top-notch, at first I thought that Shimizu was throwing werewolves into the plot, but after some googling, I discovered the story of the Inugami.
When asked about the practical effects and if he hates the use of CGI Shimizu had this to say
“I don’t particularly hate CGI, I prefer analog because it is more of a direct reaction, in this sense, it draws the audience in to anticipate what is going to happen next, this is just my preference, so I don’t hate CGI really”.
This is another thing that the film does well. It really makes good use of many elements of the actual locations and legends such as the haunted phone booth that’s use expertly entwined into the film’s lore. This phone booth is said to ring and if you pick it up you can hear the voice of a dead person on the other end. This red phone booth makes an appearance throughout the film and is a great source of eerie anticipation. The scares aren’t kept just for dark lonely hallways. Daylight doesn’t deter Shimizu from offering up some of the film’s scariest moments. This helps in leaps and bounds to make the atmosphere and narrative of the film more true to life. The acting is also a great source of believability with each actor/actress doing their part to bring the audience in with them to The Howling village and the drama of family and everything that comes with it. Different use of cinematography and musical score drive the nail of tension deeper into the viewer’s senses. This causes vested interest in each of the main characters’ outcomes, will they live, will they die.
The only real issues are the film is a slow burn at times. Slow burns are my thing and although there are scenes of fear and panic, some scenes linger beyond their expiry date. The next issue is many different ideas don’t get the time they deserve in the film. Some viewers may get lost in different plot ideas. This potentially could make viewers zone out as at its heart Howling Village is a Ghost/Mystery story and less of a horror film at heart. This aside Takashi Shimizu (Director/Writer), Daisuke Hosaka (writer) create a heavily atmospheric film, with a mystery that will keep the audience guessing until the third act. The use of practical effects brings gleeful grins and when the film hits its horror elements, it hit the bullseye. Top not acting and an engaging story really helps to make Howling Village a worthwhile view. This one is worth the price of admission. Howling Village is the first film in a planned trilogy, Suicide Forrest Village was recently in Japan with the third and final installment concluding with Ushikubi Village which I can confirm just wrapped up shooting.
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Writers: Takashi Shimizu, Daisuke Hosaka
Cast: Ayaka Miyoshi, Ryota Bando, Megumi Okina, Renji IshibashiProducer: Chikako NakabayashiGenre: Horror, MysteryRun Time: 108 minutes Rating: Not rated distributor: Dread
HOWLING VILLAGE will be available In Select Theaters August 13, On Demand August 17 + Blu-Ray on September 14