Despite its title, Ouija Japan is not another carbon copy film about a bunch of kids summoning evil spirits. For one thing, the characters are all grown women. For another in this film the entity doesn’t bother killing them, it traps them in a battle to the death with each other, complete with an app for their phones and microtransactions to buy weapons.
Has writer/director Masaya Kato, not to be confused with veteran actor Masaya Katô (Gozu, Karate Kill), brought us a new treat? Or once again proven that different isn’t always better?
Karen (Ariel Sekiya) has recently moved from the US to her husband’s (Takeaki Abe) Japanese homeland. She’s trying to fit in but not doing a good job of it. She still can’t really speak the language and stumbles over cultural differences. So when she’s invited to help scout places for a children’s camping trip she agrees. Slightly more reluctantly she agrees to play the Kokkuri-san, the Japanese equivalent of the Ouija Board.
However, in doing so, they manage to insult the Fox Deity that’s associated with the board. As a punishment, it pits them against each other in a low-budget version of Battle Royale. He also installs an app on their phone that lets them trade some of their life for powerups and weapons. May the odds be ever in your favour.
The first part of Ouija Japan is as much a drama about Karen and her mostly bitchy Japanese neighbours as it is a supernatural shocker. Constantly, and at times seemingly randomly, switching between English and subtitled Japanese we see her trying to acclimate herself to her new home and try to get along. We also see them talking about her, often right in front of her knowing she can’t understand them.
What makes this worse is whoever they hired to dub in English dialogue for the Japanese housewives sounds nothing like the actresses. It was confusing at first, and even after I realized what was going on it still kept pulling me out of the film on the rare occasions Ouija Japan managed to actually pull me in.
I’m not sure whether the deity is mad because they used a coin from the shrine’s offering box as a planchette or because the questions they ask are so stupid and annoying. But once Ouija Japan switches gears and becomes an action film it does get better, though not by much.
The action scenes are poorly choreographed and the cast, most of whom have few if any other credits, are rarely convincing fighting and using weapons. Despite those weapons ranging from katana to assault rifles, the gore is mostly confined to CGI blood spray. That’s very disappointing when you see a sword rise, hear a nasty sound effect then see a body with just a blood smear on it.
Given the overall cheapness of Ouija Japan though, I shouldn’t have expected anything else. They don’t even have a prop Kokkuri-san, it’s hand-drawn on a piece of paper. The Fox Deity, who I think is also called Kokkuri-san, is just someone wearing a fox mask. Not even a full-head rubber mask but a cheap plastic one that covers their face and is held on with an elastic band.
As a final insult, Ouija Japan plays out in an extremely predictable manner. From how Satsuki (Miharu Chiba), Karen’s only friend, will act to the final, unbelievably cliched scene you can guess it all. Surely Kato could have found some way to change things up a bit with a God and a mobile app involved?
Ouija Japan could have been something different, and the idea of a supernaturally tinged Battle Royale still sounds like a lot of fun. Instead, we get what feels like two films clumsily edited together and cast with actresses that had no training in fighting for the camera. And that last one may be the biggest problem with this film. A low-budget battle-to-the-death style film isn’t that hard to pull off provided your cast can stage convincing fights. The Raid, Ninja Apocalypse and even Assassin’s Game are all proof of that. Too bad the film’s producers were too cheap to cast some talented stuntwomen, it might at least have been watchable.
Ouija Japan will be available on October 1 on Amazon Prime Video and on Blu-ray from Leomark Studios and TokyoSHOCK Japan. You can check Leomark’s Facebook page for details.