For my week of Japanese ghost films, I wanted to make sure I reviewed at least one obscure movie–don’t want to look like a poseur, you know? Love Ghost (AKA Shibito no Koiwazurai, which translates to the slightly less-terrible title “Lovesick Dead”) is definitely the most obscure film I’m covering, as it was a direct-to-DVD film in Japan as far as I can tell. This is also the most unique of the movies I’m covering, and perhaps also the most surprising? Though Love Ghost is definitely a low-budget work, it still managed to hold my attention thanks to its tight script, surprising plot twists, and different focus in regard to the ghosts.
This is one of those films where it isn’t easy to pin down what specific genre it is. It’s a sort of supernatural romance meets mystery drama meets psychological horror, and though that does make the film feel a bit all over the place I think it still manages to achieve the story’s goals. Romance is what drives the main character arc, but the plot turns out to be very much a psychological “what is going on here exactly?” sort of affair.
At first the story felt much like a shoujo manga, with its high school protagonist (a transfer student named Midori) and all her classmates’ shenanigans with romance fortune-telling, love-themed urban legends, and a series of relationships that quickly form among sweethearts and leave jealous rivals in a state of dramatic unrest. It is the urban legend involving a handsome ghost boy, Midori’s cryptic repeating dreams, and an unsettling subplot involving Midori’s mother that brings in the supernatural elements that dramatically shift the course of the film in its second half.
I did not know this before I watched Ghost Love, but it turns out this is indeed a film adaptation of a manga–but definitely not a shoujo. This is based on a manga by Junji Ito, who is famous for the grotesque body horror and Lovecraftian nihilism in the likes of Uzumaki, Tomie, and Gyo. (And for being involved in the cancelled Silent Hills project.) This fellow writes some really messed-up stuff (give him a Google search if you’re in the mood for being disturbed), but Ghost Love is overall quite different from his more well-known works (no body horror or particularly freakish supernatural phenomena). It’s a pensive story, and one worth watching if you’re in the mood for something different that came out during the J-horror craze.
Though it’s rather slow, a bit confusing, has a noticeably low budget, and doesn’t exactly grab your attention much in the first half of the film, I still found it an enjoyable watch overall. The characters act more than a little ridiculous at times, but considering they’re lovesick teenagers–and just as significantly, considering the plot twists that reveal the “true” underlying atmosphere of the story, I think it works out okay. Keep horror-related expectations in check, and you might find Love Ghost to be a memorable underrated gem.
(Note: Junji Ito tribute artwork by shigeyan)