Tired of the cold and the snow, we’re off to Japan this time out by way of HK for “Orochi”, the latest DVD release inspired by the works of Kazuo Umezu, who also did the manga that gave us “Tamami, The Baby’s Curse” . If you are a regular visitor then you know I reviewed that one not so long ago here at the ol’ Litterbox. I really liked the Gothic atmosphere, simple, yet absorbing story, and general weirdness of “Tamami”, so will I get lucky again with “Orochi”?
Our quicky synopsis reads: “1950’s Japan. Orochi, a mysterious eternal wandering spirit in the form of a young girl, comes upon the mansion of the Monzen family seeking shelter from a storm, and goes to work there as a housekeeper. The current owner of the house is Aoi Monzen, the Japan’s greatest star of the silver screen in that era. Her life seems a dream come true for a woman in postwar Japan, and she has two pretty daughters, Kazusa and Risa.
But the Monzen family also has a deep, dark secret: the women of the family may be beautiful to all eyes, but once they pass the age of 29 a terrible curse strikes and that beauty crumbles, and gradually they become hideous, rot away, and die in madness.”
Hmmmm… now that certainly sounds promising. But Neko’s been fooled before…. Will it happen again, or will “Orochi” thrill and entertain this lil’ Catgirl? I guess the only way for you to know is to “Read On”!!
We start out with a fast introduction to Orochi herself (played by Mitsuki Tanimura)….. seems she’s some kind of eternal spirit in human form that just sort of wanders through mortal existence observing we humans…. why is never really explained. She’s got all sorts of creepy mystical powers… she can unlock doors by pointing at them and move with surprising stealth and speed when she chooses. But apparently she’s not waterproof…. so one dark and stormy night in 1950 she finds herself outside the estate of the Monzen family and with the detached attitude she shows about many human rules, just walks into the house uninvited to get warm and dry off. Here she encounters the residents of the house, Aoi Monzen (played by Yoshino Kimura), famous film star and her two cute and talented daughters Risa and Kazusa…. but despite the first appearances, not all is well here….
The mansion is dark and lavish with a great period atmosphere…. still almost immediately Orochi gets a feeling something is terribly amiss….. Nearly caught by Aoi while prowling around the upstairs hallways and rooms, she’s forced to use her mystical powers to cloud Aoi’s mind…. convincing her she’s nothing more than a new Maid Aoi herself hired only that day, and allowing her to move within the house to observe the strange goings on that are unspooling there like one of Aoi’s films. She soon discovers that Aoi, herself, is a demanding, spoiled diva who seems driven to push her little daughters towards stardom whether they actually have the talent for it or not. A brutally pragmatic decision on her part to focus all her efforts towards grooming Risa and her singing career rather than waste time with her less talented sister. This drives poor Kazusa to emulate Aoi in studying acting in an attempt to secure her mother’s love and attention. It’s a cruel thing to see… but it’s not the worst thing going on at the mansion. There’s the attic you see…..
Nobody is allowed up to the attic…. and you just know that’s always a bad thing…. Aoi keeps a prisoner there, chained to a bed, and is the only one allowed to go there for any reason. Eventually Orochi discovers that the prisoner is in fact Aoi’s own mother…. a victim of a family curse that strikes down all the Monzen women when they reach their 29th birthday. All of them are born remarkably beautiful, but then a freakish malforming series of tumorous growths turns them into hideous monsters and drives them to madness. Sounds like an H.P. Lovecraft inspired bit of creepiness just destined to have freakishly deformed film stars tainted with insanity wandering the hallways of a Gothic mansion in search of pretty victims to vent their rage and madness upon…. right? Well…. not exactly.
Here’s where the film kind of goes astray…. The curse strikes Aoi at last and makes her shun her career at it’s peak for a destructive descent into alcohol and suicidal driving ending with a crash that nearly kills her. If not for Orochi’s last second intervention, that is. The accident wounds Orochi…. who wanders off to find a place to “sleep”….. something that is only supposed to happen only once a century. (And we don’t get told why….. any more than we know what caused the Monzen curse….. and we never do get to find out either….. Grrrr!!!)
Orochi fall into a crevasse in the forest…. and then suddenly it’s 1970. Huh?? Say what?…… Stranger…. Orochi finds that she’s now a girl named Yoshiko, the “daughter” of a couple of seedy street performers in Tokyo found wandering the streets alone as a child. They treat her badly but soon she gets sold like cattle by them to a mysterious woman for 3 million Yen. Confused, Orochi finds that the woman is Risa Monzen (played by Noriko Nakagoshi), now a grown woman searching for just the perfect girl to serve her famous sister Kazusa as a personal Maid. Coincidence?…. naw…….
Soon we’re back at the mansion….. and Orochi finds that Kazusa (played also by Yoshino Kimura) has grown to become the spitting image of her mother….. and that her drive to emulate Aoi has made her as famous an actress as her mother was all those years ago. And….. she’s almost reached her 29th birthday……
Orochi can’t figure out what has happened…. why she seems to be….. well….. human… for one thing. Yoshiko appears to be be very, very human indeed… and Orochi has none of her mystic powers, leaving her wondering who exactly she really is….. the immortal spirit Orochi or poor orphanYoshiko. There’s no time to waste on that though…(although Neko sorta wishes they had… I was getting sorta confused myself by this point..) Aoi is now the deformed monster in the attic…. and finally dying, reveals a last secret to Risa. It seems Aoi had a plan to end the curse after all. One of the daughters is not really her true child!!! Lucky Risa, adopted secretly at birth, will be spared the hideous curse that is now ready to claim Kazusa…. and that brings misery to the house as Kazusa goes crazy with the knowledge that soon she’ll be alone while Risa is free and beautiful. Orochi can only watch helplessly as Kazusa vents her fear and anger upon her sister in a series of cruelties…..
Just when you think this one is headed for a climax in which freakish Kazusa battles Risa and Orochi/Yoshiko in the spooky mansion, the movie throws a new curve in…. Risa didn’t just pick Yoshiko as her sister’s maid by random. She’s got a plan of her own to beat the curse…. by replacing all of Kazusa’s tainted blood with that of a compatible “donor”…. poor Yoshiko!! The two sisters knock Orochi over a balcony…. smashing her skull and Yoshiko lays dying, try to siphon off that blood for a transfusion to cure Kazusa. It fails…. and the incompatible transfusion nearly kills Kazusa, who goes crazy…. kills her faithful butler and burns her own gorgeous face with a hot poker in anguish over what will soon happen to her. Meanwhile, Yoshiko’s fatal trauma finally frees Orochi’s immortal spirit to return to the crevasse where her true body still “sleeps”. Wakened at last, and with her powers returned, she rushes to the mansion in a vain attempt to save the poor Yoshiko who’s body held her heart and soul for all those lost years.
Not gonna happen…. Instead we do another about face…. and here it’s “Spoiler Alert” time….. Seems this one has one last improbable twist to throw in. Risa has been lying to Kazusa since their mother died. It’s really Risa who is the true Monzen daughter and Kazusa who would have survived the curse. Risa wanted to torture Kazusa with the thought of losing her beauty in revenge for having to suffer the cruel fate alone…. Boy… do these women have issues!!
Ultimately…. Orochi arrives too late to save Yoshiko….. There seems to be nothing she can do to fix the ruin of the two women….. Kazusa now reduced to a scarred murderess and Risa showing the first signs of the tumors that will soon consume her….. so she does the only thing there is left to do. She leaves the mansion to resume her wandering existence yet again with only the memory of having… for a short time…. been as human as those she has observed throughout the ages.
So…. what’s Neko’s opinion on this one? Well, it’s gorgeously filmed and very well acted, but there are some serious holes in the plot that needed fixing to make this one a classic. I liked the “Monzen Curse”…. but wish they had actually explained what the heck was behind it all… Orochi herself could have been better explained too. I’m assuming the Manga that this one is based on touched on all these points, but their lack of clarity here made “Orochi” a hard story to wrap my mind around comfortably. Still…. for atmosphere and style, this one scores very well as do the nice English subtitles on the Region 3 HK disc. If you like Japanese films… and like them a little weird, “Orochi” might just be for you.
Neko gives this one 3 “Meows” out of 5, mostly for those very reasons…. had the story explained things a bit better it would have definitely scored another “Meow” as well, but I’ll give it a couple of nice purrs for it’s two “period” story settings all crammed into one movie. All in all… I sorta liked it, and, in the end, that’s not bad.
Trailer? Yep….. Neko found one for this one and I’d never leave you all without pouncing upon it and dragging it back here for you all to see.