As with many movies, this one is based on a novel… well, sort of. It's based on a sound novel, which is a Japanese brand name for a type of reading-intensive videogame.
As the movie begins, we meet three game developers in their crowded office: Shinichi (played by K˘ji Ohkura), Kohei (Y˘ichir˘ Sait˘), and Toko (female punk artist, played by Reiko Matsuo). We see several scenes from their almost-finished videogame, in which a character named Nami inherits an old house after the death of the aunt who raised her.
Next, a beautiful young lady enters the office, looking for Kohei. She is Nami (Megumi Okina), apparently the same girl in the videogame! She is meeting Kohei, her ex-boyfriend, who is driving her to see the remote house she has inherited. (Already, the movie and the videogame are combining: are we in the 'real world', or are we inside the virtual world?) The scenes shot in the office are brightly lit and clear (shot with digital cameras); the scenes as Nami and Kohei drive to the house are surreal, false color, and sometimes look like videogames. They meet a mysterious caretaker, explore the house room by room (just like in a videogame), find keys and clues (often highlighted as in a videogame), and a story unfolds.
It turns out that Nami's father was S˘ichi Kaizawa, an artist well-known outside Japan for his disturbed paintings. Then they find a photo of two children, labeled Nami and Naomi – who is Naomi? Where is Naomi? And then they begin to find bodies…
So you get the idea: a mysterious house, is it haunted or not, what are the family secrets, and will Kohei and Kami rekindle their romance? Shinichi and Toko provide remote support through technology, helping solve some of the riddles.
I thought the movie flowed well and kept me guessing right up to the end (well, like a videogame, there is more than one ending!). It's both modern due to its real world vs. virtual world dichotomy, and old-fashioned in a Vincent Price kind of way. There's not a lot of on-camera violence, no nudity in the version I saw, very atmospheric and creepy. The disturbing parts are what you think you see, or almost see, or saw for a second and it's gone.
The one flaw with the movie is that after it's over, you're left with a lot of unanswered questions. Why did this person do that, why was this person that way, when was this person actually killed?
The DVD that I watched only had the English-language version, so I must give a shout-out to Kim Little, who did the voiceovers for Nami. Her whispery, almost childlike voice definitely helps set the tone for the movie.
Megumi Okina is excellent as Nami, and seems to just get more beautiful as the movie progresses. Y˘ichir˘ Sait˘ is also good as Kohei, except for the 'don't panic' scene where he (or the voiceover actor) overacts. Shinichi and Toko were a bit irritating, but their roles (while important) are minor.
Can you game it? The plot could serve as inspiration for a campaign in which Nami is searching for the truth, but you would need to add more conflict and enlarge the factions.
Why the title? The house has St. John's Wort planted around it, a yellow flower which symbolizes revenge. The Japanese title is Otogiriso.
I liked the movie.