Ox-Head Village Movie Review

Written by Jeff Tolbert

Released by Toei Company

ox head village poster large

Directed by Takashi Shimizu
Written by Daisuke Hosaka and Takashi Shimizu
2022, 55 minutes, Not Rated
Fantaspoa Screening on April 16th, 2022

Kôki as Kanon
Riku Hagiwara
Keiko Horiuchi

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Ox-Head Village (Ushikubi Mura) is the third in a series of “haunted village” films by writer/director Takashi Shimizu, most famous in the West for his Ju-On series (remade in the United States as The Grudge). It’s the story of high school senior Kanon and her would-be boyfriend Ren, who view a strange online video in which a trio of teenage girls explore a supposedly haunted hotel. One of the girls—who looks exactly like Kanon—is apparently attacked by a supernatural force, and disappears. Ren and Kanon decide to investigate the site of the disappearance, and—this being a horror film—predictably spooky things ensue.

Kanon and Ren travel to the town where the hotel is located and begin their inquiry. In the course of their explorations, they learn that the ghost-hunter who vanished was actually Kanon’s twin sister Shion. This relatively early revelation sparks at least one other see-it-coming discovery about the village and its dark past. As the pair seek answers to the mystery of Shion’s disappearance, increasingly disturbing supernatural events—including an unlikely dismemberment involving an elevator—threaten to derail their investigation.

ox head village 03

Love them or hate them, the Ju-On series and its American remakes are icons of Japanese horror. (I include the American remakes in that category because, unlike most Western adaptations of J-horror, their narratives retain their overt connections to Japan and Japanese culture.) It’s difficult, then, not to have fairly high expectations from a new Shimizu film. Ox-Head Village does offer some interesting moments, but it fails to establish either a unified tone or even a fully coherent narrative structure. It’s difficult to fully summarize the film without spoiling individual scenes or set-pieces, partly because the scenes themselves feel somehow disjointed and abrupt. The film also vacillates between horror and comedy in a way that sometimes works—see the excellent Japanese film Noroi, or the equally excellent Korean film The Wailing—but just doesn’t here.

On the bright side, the film is very heavily coded as a Japanese horror film. That is, the horror stems specifically from a particular complex of beliefs and aesthetics which, though fictional in this instance, feel like they could be part of the complicated matrix of Shinto and Buddhist beliefs that characterize local traditions throughout Japan. Jizo statues and roadside shrines abound, and at the center of the film is an esoteric ritual intended to placate the local kami, a la the Fatal Frame video game series. The movie also references shinrei supotto, or “ghost spots,” haunted places that are often popular destinations for legend-tripping. If you’re a fan of horror with a healthy dose of cultural specificity, in other words, you might enjoy this.

This film screened as part of Fantaspoa 2022. For more information on the festival, please visit www.fantaspoa.com.

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Movie: 3 Star Rating Cover

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Jeff Tolbert
Staff Reviewer
Jeff studies folklore for a living (no, really) and digs the supernatural. He loves a good haunting, and really strongly recommends that everyone stop what they're doing and go play Fatal Frame right now.
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