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Friday, Nov. 12, 2010

'Ghost — Mo Ichido Dakishimetai (Ghost: In Your Arms Again)'/'Paranormal Activity Dainisho: Tokyo Night (Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night)'

Ghostly remakes range from horrible to shocking


Hollywood has been remaking Japanese films for decades, but now Hollywood studios — as part of a worldwide strategy to boost box office in overseas markets — are starting to remake their own films for Japan, with Japanese talent.

Ghost — Mo Ichido Dakishimetai (Ghost: In Your Arms Again) Rating: (2 out of 5)
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MOVIES
Phantom lovers: Nanami (Nanako Matsushima) takes her love for Kim Jyuno (Song Seung Heon) beyond the grave. © 2010 "GHOST" SEISAKU IINKAI

Director: Taro Otani
Running time: 116 minutes
Language: Japanese
Opens Nov. 13, 2010
[See Japan Times movie listing]

One example is "Sideways," the 2004 Alexander Payne film about a failed writer and fussy oenophile who finds love in California's wine country. The 2009 Japanese remake kept the title, but otherwise adapted the original for local tastes, while rounding off the hero's prickly — and interesting — edges.

Something similar has happened to "Ghost," the 1990 Jerry Zucker smash about love beyond the grave. The made- for-Japan version, "Ghost — Mo Ichido Dakishimetai (Ghost: In Your Arms Again)," produced by J-horror maestro Takashige Ichise ("The Ring," "The Grudge") and directed by TV drama veteran Taro Otani, with the backing of Paramount Pictures Japan and Korea's CJ Entertainment, has been thoroughly localized — and domesticated.

Reviewing the original for this page (back in the days when I was also writing about Hollywood films), I praised it for pushing all the right audience buttons — laughs, chills, thrills and tears — with a flawless script by Bruce Joel Rubin.

The biggest change in the remake, scripted by Miho Nakazono, is to make the ghost a thirtysomething businesswoman, played by Nanako Matsushima, star of 1998's seminal J-horror hit "Ringu (The Ring)."

The heroine, Nanami Hoshino (Matsushima), is the president of a ¥15-billion company who gets smashed celebrating her birthday and wakes up the next morning barely clothed in the house of gorgeous Korean guy Kim Jyuno (Song Seung Heon), with no memory of how she got there. Assuming hanky-panky has occurred (while we know the stranger has behaved like a prince), she slaps him and sashays out.

Naturally, this is the beginning of a beautiful romance, in the course of which Nanami learns that her new squeeze is an aspiring potter whose Japanese may be elementary but whose manual skills are extraordinary. They marry and seem destined to live happily ever after when fate — in the form of crooks eager to get their paws on her fortune — fatally intervenes.

If you've seen the original, you know most of the plot twists from here, including the big moments everyone remembers. Which raises the question: Why remake it to begin with? Is the quavery Ken Hirai cover of the Righteous Brothers' theme song "Unchained Melody" an improvement? Not really. Is the reworking of the famous pottery-wheel love scene, after which millions never looked at clay the same way again, sexier? Hardly — instead it descends to Hello Kitty cuteness.

The only way the new "Ghost" equals the old one is the phony medium, played by Kirin Kiki, who finds herself able to communicate with Nanami's ghost, while being scared half to death. Like Whoopi Goldberg in the original role, Kirin is an earthy, laugh-out-loud funny corrective to the supernatural goings-on around her. In fact, I was hoping she would steal the movie — but the dead hand of Ichise and his collaborators soon reclaims it. "Ghost" is filmmaking as karaoke.

Paranormal Activity Dainisho: Tokyo Night (Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night) Rating: (3 out of 5)
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MOVIES
Scary movies: Koichi (Aoi Nakamura) captures more than he bargains for while documenting the recovery of his sister Haruka (Noriko Aoyama) after a car crash. © PRESIDIO CORPORATION ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Director: Toshikazu Nagae
Running time: 104 minutes
Language: Japanese
Opens Nov. 20, 2010
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Toshikazu Nagae's "Paranormal Activity Dainisho: Tokyo Night (Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night)" is another Japanese remake of a U.S. hit, Oren Peli's shocker "Paranormal Activity," though the remaker is not a Hollywood major but local distributor Presidio, just as the original film was not a Hollywood studio product but a zero-budget indie that ended up grossing $193 million worldwide. (Confusingly, the American sequel to Peli's original, "Paranormal Activity 2," will be released in Japan by Paramount on Feb. 11, 2011.)

Like the original, the remake is a fake documentary about spooky goings-on in an otherwise ordinary house. The main difference is that, instead of the original's young couple, the two principals are a sister and brother. Haruka (Noriko Aoyama), 27, has returned to the family home after breaking both her legs in a car crash while traveling in the U.S. Her younger brother Koichi (Aoi Nakamura), 19, is caring for her while he studies for his college entrance exams. (Their father is often away on foreign business trips, while their mother is no longer among the living.)

Koichi is recording Haruka's stay with a new camcorder and when strange things start happening in her room at night he sets it on a tripod there to catch whoever — or whatever — is responsible. No ghosts show up on camera, but Haruka's wheelchair moves on its own and a pile of salt — intended to spiritually purify the room — suddenly scatters across the floor to the accompaniment of a sinister rumble and roar on the soundtrack. These otherworldly events escalate and, though the siblings try to get help from outside, including a teenage psychic and a Shinto priest, the unquiet spirit harassing them is not easily quelled.

Having seen the original — and been sufficiently creeped out — I was expecting the remake to be a letdown. But Nagae, a veteran of both the horror and mockumentary genres — his credits include the cult hit "Hoso Kinshi (Banned from Broadcast)" TV and film series — knows what he is about, changing the original enough to keep things interesting without deviating too far from its successful formula.

He is aided by Aoyama, who may be too fashion-model beautiful to be a realistic mockumentary "average" person, but gives great blood-curdling screams, while melting down most convincingly into a pool of quivering, bug-eyed hysteria.

The climax recalls certain J-horror films I won't name for fear of giving something away. Derivative? Maybe, but slavishly imitative, no. And if Hollywood ever remakes "King Kong" in Japan we now know who to call for the Fay Wray role.


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