Ouija Japan awakens a vengeful Kokurri-san who brings bloody revenge and chills to bored housewives in an uneven but entertaining film.
Ouija Japan mixes up catty Japanese housewives, Kokkuri-san and a battle royale hosted by a deity who mysteriously controls a phone app in a wacky horror movie. Written and directed by Masaya Katô, the indie horror film deserves praise for clearly having had a great time choosing its cast through gunshots, knife fights, and exploding phones. In a movie like this, where all that matters is survival, it’s not easy to keep the murders interesting.
Ouija Japan begins by explaining how Kokkuri-san works. We learn the rules before we even meet the cast of characters who are meant to be killed to appease a fox god. The film centers on Karen (Ariel Sekiya), an American housewife living in Japan with her husband and struggling to fit in and speak Japanese. Karen spends most of the 78 minutes running complaining about her embarrassment and has only one friend, Satsuki (Miharu Chiba).
When Karen is invited to join her neighbors on a camping trip, she decides to go. However, it doesn’t take long for the drunken band to stir and play Kokkuri-san. The game starts off innocently enough, and the always sarcastic Satsuki takes every chance she has to take down the other wives, especially Akiyo (Eigi Kodaka), the queen bee of the group. Kodaka clearly enjoys being a mean character and adds some fun to the screen when she appears with her girl gang. It’s easier to put down roots for her than it is to worry about Karen.
While the movie setup generally works, it takes 30 minutes too long to get to the surprise bloodshed. Fortunately, once the games start and a surprise app hits the group’s phones, pleasant chaos ensues. Karen’s character can be a bit squeaky, but the movie is also aware of this and makes sure to take plenty of photos of how “pitiful” and “naive” Karen is. However, the character of Satsuki is just the right amount of bite and helps keep the film going when Karen is determined to slow it down by begging everyone to stop killing.
However, there is one puzzling element to the plot. While we only see a handful of women discussing the camping trip – and never more than eight or more in one frame during the trip – the movie wants us to believe that there are 16 women present in total. While that high number makes sense for the battle royale element – more people to kill to keep up – it’s nonetheless shocking to see someone get stabbed that you didn’t even know existed in the first place. . This choice unfortunately weakens the impact of early kills.
That being said, there’s something intriguing about the way the horror game plays out on everyone’s phones, which can make the oddly odd number of casts easier to ignore. With each new kill, features of the app appear, which can range from owning a gun to setting up a live grenade. It’s not entirely clear how this god can make an app work, but it’s a fun idea that works best when audiences roll with the omniscient deity being a master of tech.
Ouija Japan lands more like a nifty action thriller than a horror movie. It does not bring the tension that Lowering did it – another female-led survival story on an ill-fated camping trip – because she spends more time tearing up her characters than building them. But if what you are looking for is something lighter and more fun, then you will come away satisfied.
Ouija Japan arrives digitally and on VOD on October 19.
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