Four friends work at some kind of florist/greenhouse shop: Ryosuke Kawashima, a male nerdy college student; Michi Kudo, a calm, responsible young woman; Junko Sasano, a more excitable young woman; and Taguchi, who hasn't shown up for work for a few days, and has a computer disk which Kawashima needs.
Michi volunteers to check on Taguchi. When she knocks on his apartment door and there is no answer, she finds his hidden key and lets herself in. As she searches his desk, which is crowded with multiple computer monitors and piles of stuff, she suddenly realizes Taguchi is standing behind her. She asks where the missing disk is, and he tells her to keep looking on the desk. Michi finds the disk, but when she turns around to let Taguchi know she found it, she finds he has hung himself in the next room.
The friends are stunned by the death of their friend. Meanwhile, Kawashima has the disk, which turns out to be the installation for an AOL-like dial-up internet service called Uranus. Instead of logging into anything, however, his monochrome monitor displays an image of Taguchi's desk… what's in the shadows?
Worried by strange activity, such as his computer turning itself on and logging onto the internet, and phone calls that just say 'Help me', Kawashima visits the computer lab at school, where female tutor Harue Karasawa takes a personal interest in his situation.
And so it goes, as Kawashima discovers the Forbidden Room, starts to act strangely, and then goes missing; Junko goes in search of Kawashima, and enters the Forbidden Room; and Michi tries to help Junko, while Kawashima tries to save the suddenly vulnerable Harue. Meanwhile, suicides multiply, people are disappearing, until the situation becomes a national and global disaster.
They're recently re-released this movie on DVD, promoting it as the predecessor to later, better-known Japanese horror movies (The Grudge, The Ring, Dark Waters). The original Japanese title is Kairo. The version I watched is Japanese with English subtitles.
What this movie has is lots of moody atmosphere, lots of shadows, some creepy special effects, an emphasis on the loneliness of modern life, and a small cast of interesting characters. It goes from ghost story to ghost apocalypse.
What the movie doesn't have is coherence. Watch it to the end, and you still won't understand what's behind the ghost phenomena. At one point, a random guy in the library pops up to explain to Kawashima what's going on, but then he admits that it's just his own speculation!
All of the performances are well done, with Koyuki standing out for her portrayal of Harue as she goes from confident instructor to a lonely, broken young woman.
Can you game it? Surprisingly, I think you could, in a campaign where the player characters are working to save each other and their friends and family from the different types of ghosts, but you would have to add a way to 'fight' the ghosts.
Due to the subject matter, this movie is not suitable for younger audiences. Suicides occur. It's a 'dark' movie. There is no bad language, no nudity or sexual situations.
I prefer movies where you find out what's going on by the end, but nevertheless, this is an interesting movie worth seeing. It's hard to categorize: ghost story? sci-fi/tech? fantasy? The ending is just cool.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .