[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF coverage, head over here. For Japan Cuts, here.]
The Japanese name for Tormented is Rabito Hora. If your Engrish skills are lacking, that means “Rabbit Horror.” It’s a pretty dumb name (especially since “3D” is often thrown at the end), and it brings to mind something like the 1972 film Night of the Lepus. It’s silly. Tormented, on the other hand, is much more serious (although tacking “3D” on the end of it would do a lot to mitigate that). If I were to look at the Japanese name, I would go in expecting something silly and crazy, but looking at the American name makes me think it’s serious and scary.
Well… it’s silly all right, despite its attempts at serious horror, but not for the reasons you might think.
Tormented (Rabito Hora 3D / ラビット・ホラー 3D)
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Kiriko (Hikari Mitsushima) is a mute young woman who works as the librarian at the school her younger brother, Daigo (Takeru Shibuya), attends. After an incident in which Daigo mercy-kills a young rabbit, he is ostracized from his classmates and stops going to school. He soon starts being haunted in the night by a person in a rabbit costume, who brings him to carnivals and shows him all sorts of weird things. Kiriko, meanwhile, is constantly woken up by her brother’s screams as he finds himself in the clutches of the rabbit-person. Their father (Teruyuki Kagawa) is a picture book artist who appears to be too busy to pay attention to the plight of his young son.
All of that sounds fine, right? Kinda weird, but it’s a Japanese horror film, so whatever. But not all is as it seems, and when I say that, I mean to say that none of that actually makes any sense. Now, I’m going to have to spoil the biggest (although not only) reveal of the film, because I need to talk about why the movie doesn’t work. The twist, which is revealed between half about two-thirds of the way through, doesn’t just change everything that has come before it, the way a good twist would, it completely negates everything that came before it. What do I mean? Well… spoilers for the paragraphs in between the next two images.
Daigo does not exist. He is the figment of Kiriko’s psychotic imagination. After (unintentionally) doing something terrible in her youth, Kiriko’s mind split from reality. She imagined the birth of a younger brother as well as his childhood and schooling up through the mercy-killing of the rabbit and whatnot. It’s all one big crazy hallucination. As a plot point, there’s nothing wrong with that. It can definitely be used effectively, and act as some mindblowing moment of revelation. In fact, I wasn’t actually surprised by the revelation, because of a few things that happened earlier that didn’t quite add up. So for the moment I was just being proud of myself, because I never pick up on things like that. But then, as I thought about it, I realized how completely bullshit that twist was.
You see, the problem is that the majority of the time leading up to the reveal, Daigo is the main character. The film follows him through his night terrors, and we see the rabbit and the creepy things it does through his eyes. Now remember that Daigo is not real, and you will quickly realize what that means: none of it happened. It’s not even it was a dream that the character woke up from. Those are irritating enough on their own. No, these were the actions and dreams of a hallucination, a character that does not exist outside of the realm of Kiriko’s head. Even though Kiriko has the occasional VO, her lack of presence during Daigo’s antics means that there is no justifiable way any of that could have happened. It was impossible, and the audience was watching something impossible.
Even if the sequences themselves are interesting, they absolutely destroy the narrative of the film. You don’t follow Tyler Durden in Fight Club, because you can’t follow him. He’s not real. (Spoilers for a movie you should have seen 13 years ago, by the way). You certainly couldn’t go into his dreams. Whatever they were, no matter how cool they were to watch, they would have destroyed the integrity of Fight Club‘s story. And that’s what happens here. A story that is already kind of strange completely and utterly ruins itself.
(Spoilers are over). Outside of that major issue, though, things just don’t make a lot of sense. In an attempt to keep things interesting, the film throws out more and more twists, and they make less and less sense. When the credits rolled, the man beside me said, “What?”, a fitting reference to the audience reaction to Gyo. And then the credits finished rolling, and another few moments of footage played. And then it was my turn, but with a bit of added color:
What the fuck?
If you expect to come out of Tormented with even the vaguest sense of what just happened, prepare to be very unhappy. Everything that seems true is questioned, questioned again, and then questioned a third time. Then another thing comes and make it all even more confusing. Horror films can get away with making less sense than other types of films, because frequently their aim is not to tell an incredibly compelling story, but they can’t get away with something this completely ridiculous. They really can’t.
As far as something scary, I think that I found Tormented more effective than most people will. I’m kind of a wimp, and loud noises made me jump pretty badly (I actually left my seat when that first gunshot in Drive happened). There are a lot of loud noises here. As far as sound goes, though, Tormented has a really good soundtrack. Seriously good. It’s the soundtrack of a far better horror film, and it ups the tension in a way that the rest of the film never could. Not even the woman with the long, black hair with the life of its own (this was done by the guy who made Ju-On/The Grudge after all) really does all that much.
I wish I’d seen the movie in 3D. Not because I think it would have been good, but because it would have made things more interesting. It would have given me something to pay attention to other than the ridiculous narrative. Visually, the film is completely fine, perhaps even good (although the color is a bit much), but it was clearly designed for 3D. In fact, there is a scene within the movie of a 3D movie, and I wanted to watch it that way too. I don’t actually like 3D, but it would have been a cool effect to put on my 3D glasses with the people in the movie. It would have gotten me involved in a meaningful way. Sure, it would have been a gimmick, but so what? It would have been a cool gimmick.
A lot of the other people in the theater hated Tormented. I didn’t. In fact, I kind of liked it. There were aspects of it I thought were interesting, and I mostly enjoyed everything leading up to that big twist. As it went crazy, I still found some things to like (the soundtrack), but the narrative missteps were too great. I don’t think anybody could pull off a movie with such a stupid plot. And if it is possible, Takashi Shimizu certainly isn’t the one to prove it.