[review by JA Kerswell]
|The unsuspecting group gather at an All American summer camp in Japanese slasher JAPANESE DOLL.|
Something of a love letter to North American early 80s slashers, Tarô Miyaoka’s JAPANESE DOLL features a unique killer in the shape of, well, a giant Japanese Doll. Equipped with sharp barbecue implements, an axe and a chainsaw, the bobble-headed killer chases and butchers a group of teenagers lured to a remote American-style summer camp. This is a fun tribute to slashers of yore - with a dose of Japanese weirdness and folklore thrown in for good measure.
Yuri (Nao Kosaka) and her childhood friend Masato (Riku Hagiwara) both receive mysterious invitations to attend a party at a summer camp - with the promise of 100,000 yen to attend. Yuri is reticent but is persuaded to go - but her nerves are further put on edge by finding a creepy, and strangely familiar, doll outside her front door.
When they arrive at the meeting point, they discover there is a group of young people also gathered there - and one older man, Kitazawa (Masato Hagiwara). All are puzzled as to why they have been invited, but couldn’t resist the lure of the promised money. They are picked up by a curiously aloof woman, Michiko (Asuka Kurosawa), who takes them to the remote summer camp where they find that they are the only guests. Yuri is further spooked to discover that the doll appears in photos she has taken - only it seems to be getting bigger and bigger.
|The JAPANESE DOLL is a striking and unusual slasher movie villain.|
The group become aware that they have something in common. They all attended this very summer camp ten years previously when they were children. Only one girl is missing - who it turns out died several years later; heartbroken after the children accidentally threw her doll into the fire during a game.
Soon they come to realise that they are in grave danger. The doll has now grown to near-giant proportions and is intent on retribution. But is something supernatural afoot, or is there someone inside the killer Japanese Doll? And will they make it to the morning to find out?
Despite North American slashers being incredibly popular with Japanese audiences in the early part of the 1980s (the gorier the better!), there were precious few homegrown examples - unlike other parts of South East and East Asia. EVIL DEAD TRAP (1988), did feature elements of the subgenre but tended to veer into the esoteric and strange. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Later there were a few examples, such the low-budget teens hunted in a department store slasher BLOODY NIGHT A GO GO and GUROZUKA (both 2005), and BLACK RAT (2010). However, JAPANESE DOLL is one of the most explicitly influenced by North American slashers films that Japan has produced. However, it also features elements from popular folklore and the concept of curses typified by the likes of the hugely popular RINGU (1998) and JUON: THE GRUDGE (2002) series. Unlike those movies, outside of a couple of instances, it doesn’t have that feeling of creeping dread and discombobulation that typifies the best of recent Japanese horror cinema since the late 1990s. The film flirts with the concept of a cursed doll - including the seemingly random introduction of a Professor of cursed dolls (Makoto Awane)! - before settling into a more slasher traditional one-by-one body-count movie. Again, nothing wrong with that and the reason it is included here.
|Peek-a-Boo she's coming for you!|
JAPANESE DOLL is purposefully reminiscent of the FRIDAY THE 13TH series - especially the setting at the American-style summer camp, with its babbling brooks and wood cabins. A climactic birthday party - with all the dead bodies attending - is an obvious nod to HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981).
The most striking aspect is the killer’s outfit - however impractical is it for hunting teenagers! Appearing 10t tall, the giant doll in a red kimono and with an oversized head, chasing a victim through the woods with a chainsaw or barbecue fork is a surreal and arresting sight. Oddly, one thing Miyaoka doesn’t borrow is the strong final girl figure - here played by Nao Kosaka. She is often frozen to the spot and has to be repeatedly dragged to safety by a fellow survivor. However, in a subgenre known for 30-year-olds playing teenagers, Kosaka - from the Japanese pop group Hinatazaka46 - was merely 17-years-old when she made this. Perhaps because of her involvement, and aiming to attract a younger audience, the film is not without blood, but it is not particularly graphic - and received a PG12 in Japan during its limited 2019 cinema run.
Its low/medium budget roots sometimes show, but JAPANESE DOLL is still an entertaining slasher whodunnit - and, of course, features one of the wildest killer outfits of recent times.
female: 3 / male: 5
1) Female found dead with head wound
2) Female killed with an axe
3) Male garrotted with barbed wire
4) Male found with throat slashed
5) Female stabbed repeatedly with a barbecue fork
6) Male stabbed in the back with barbecue fork and whacked with hammer
7) Male killed with a chainsaw
8) Male shot dead
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