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Friday, Oct. 16, 2009

'Senritsu Meikyu 3-D'

Horror that screams in your face


3-D,we've been hearing for decades, is the future of movies. Finally, the future is here, with 7,000 3-D screens expected to be up and running worldwide by the end of the year and Hollywood frantically ramping up production of 3-D films, both animated and live-action.

Senritsu Meikyu 3-D Rating: (3 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
Senritsu Meikyu 3-D
Warped record: Erina Mizuno, Yuya Yagira, Ai Maeda and Ryo Katsuji in "Senritsu Meikyu 3-D." © SHOCK LABYRINTH FILM COMMITTEE 2009

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Running time: 95 minutes
Language: Japanese
[See Japan Times movie listing]

One leader in the 3-D revolution is "Titanic" director James Cameron, who announced his intention of opening his new sci-fi epic "Avatar" only in 3-D theaters in the United States. He won't get his wish — the poor economy and the high cost of 3-D projection systems have made many theater owners hesitate. But "Avatar" promises to be for 3-D movies what "The Jazz Singer" was for talkies: A game changer.

In Japan, the first director to make a 3-D live-action film is Takashi Shimizu, the horrormeister who has spent much of the past decade in Hollywood making and remaking installments in his "Ju-on" ("The Grudge") franchise. The budget of his new film, "Senritsu Meikyu^ 3-D" ("Shock Labyrinth"), wouldn't pay for the catering on "Avatar," but this lost-in-a-spookhouse shocker is a 3-D film for all that, with ghostly hands that grab at audience throats and a creepy doll that floats in the air just out of reach.

I'm old enough, I confess, to have sampled the primitive 3-D of the 1950s, including the cardboard glasses with the cellophane lens that produced throbbing headaches. The wraparound glasses handed out at the "Senritsu Meikyu^" screening were marvels of comfort by comparison, though watching an entire movie with them was like taking up temporary residence in a different dimension. I suppose the first audiences for "The Jazz Singer" in 1927 had a similar reaction to sound — including the echoes that made characters sound as though they were talking through megaphones.

The story begins as a murder mystery. Police find a distressed young man, Ken (Yuya Yagira), inside a closed amusement-park spookhouse, together with three bodies. He begins raving about "one more inside," while protesting his innocence.

The attraction in question is designed as a hospital from hell, with inanimate staff and patients that look like refugees from a zombie movie. What were five college-age kids doing there, besides being up to no good?

Flash back 10 years, when this quintet — three girls and two boys — sneaked into the same spookhouse. Their little adventure ended badly — no need to say how — and one of the girls, Yuki, never came out. The other four assumed that Yuki — a tall, shy girl who always carried a stuffed rabbit — died there in mysterious circumstances, but one rainy night a decade later, she returns, older but definitely alive. Before Yuki (Misako Renbutsu) can tell her story to Ken, his pal Motoki (Ryo Katsuji), Yuki's younger sister, Miyu (Erina Mizuno) and the blind Rin (Ai Maeda), she collapses. They rush her to a hospital but, once they are inside, it turns into a familiar house of horrors, with no way out.

Those expecting straightforward jack-in-the-box shocks may be baffled by the mind-twisting games Shimizu and scriptwriter Daisuke Hosaka play with time, space and logic. Fans of Shimizu's "Ju-on" films, however, will find them familiar, if not taken to a new, nightmarish level. Shimizu is a past master at audience disorientation — that is, his characters are not the only ones who find themselves reliving a horrific, surreal past, like a bad acid flashback.

At the same time, the 3-D exaggerates everything from the false notes in a performance to the cheesiness of an effect. I started to understand why Cameron and his backers poured a reported $240 million into "Avatar" — to raise the level of realism beyond snide comparisons with a diorama in a Viewmaster, another ancient 3-D technology (though one fondly remembered by Baby Boomers, this one included).

Just as "The Jazz Singer" was a box-office smash, despite its clunky mix of silence and sound, "Senritsu Meikyu^ 3-D" will probably also draw in the curious. And some of its scares are the sort that two dimensions can never deliver — such as those fumbling spectral fingers that made the skin of my throat crawl. They also reminded me that, instead of a movie, I was in a theme-park attraction. But, unlike poor Ken and his pals, I knew exactly where the exits were.


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