Japanese horror auteur Koji Shiraishi is probably best known for 2007’s The Slit Mouthed Woman or 2016’s Ring/Grudge crossover Sadako vs. Kayako, but Noroi is his magnum opus. Noroi begins as a mockumentary featuring an actor playing director and paranormal investigator Kobayashi. The prologue tells us that Kobayashi disappeared following the death of his wife after the completion of the film we are about to see, and then Kobayashi’s completed film begins. Kobayashi investigates an average suburban woman who reports that her neighbor’s house issues the odd and impossible sound of multiple babies crying, when only a middle aged woman and a young school age boy live there. When he goes to speak to the neighbor, she comes out the door screaming like the bus driver from South Park, not even making the slightest pretense at the famous Japanese etiquette. This extreme rudeness and aggression would be disturbing enough, but then the complainant and her young daughter are mysteriously killed in a car accident.
The film moves on to a seemingly unrelated program, one of those Japanese TV shows with all the weird fonts and the reaction shots. The subject is testing children to see who is most psychic. Another unrelated show with a psychic actress follows, and Kobayashi interviews the subjects of both, not knowing what we the audience can probably guess, that this is all one big demonic clusterfuck masquerading as separate investigations. Worse, it seems to me that the demon is getting stronger because of the TV appearances of the various psychics, because as we later find out, it has been causing trouble in our world since at least 1979, but has just now (2004 in the film) started actually hurting people. Or so we think.
The plot just gets weirder and weirder and weirder. Every time you think you’ve seen it all, it escalates. And yet, the aforementioned reality show clip aside, Noroi remains the least “WTF Japan” Japanese horror movie I’ve ever seen. Yes, it’s obviously Japanese, and there are probably jokes (at least in the beginning when there are attempts at humor, before it gets so disturbing) that are completely lost when the language is translated, but this is the rare Asian horror movie, IMO, that could have been hugely popular worldwide without a long-haired ghost lady or a kaiju monster. And yet it’s never been released here on DVD. If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to buy a region-free DVD player, this is it!
Noroi stands as one of the few horror films I’d recommend to anyone who loves films. Horror addict, horror tourist, movie snob, the desensitized, or the squeamish, anyone could potentially enjoy this. It’s not the usual fare about which I have to say “I like this but I can’t really recommend it because I like trash films so caveat emptor.” It lacks cheap jump scares but has several background scares, where you have to look twice to see the horror, and then it’s gone. Luckily the film usually stops and shows you what to look at.
But what is even more disturbing than the visuals are all the revelations of what is actually going on. Noroi doesn’t just gross you out or make you want to hide your eyes, it gets into your mind, making you question the ethics and maybe even the spiritual implications of documenting certain things on film, going back to the film within the film within the film. And then even at Kobayashi’s lowest point, in the horrific coda after the finished film is presented, he’s grabbing onto that camera. And I’m the creepy friend who’s urging you to watch.
A couple of notes: Noroi is both a mockumentary and a found footage film, because even though the film with in the film is finished, the ending comes from a tape that appears after the main section was edited. It’s just a personal pet peeve, but in most true found footage films I’m kind of taken out of the experience by wondering if those tapes were found after everyone on them died, who edited it? Also, one of the psychics depicted here has been driven nuts, and he uses a lot of aluminum foil to deflect the bad vibes. Who was the first person to think of that? I’ve seen two other shows recently where the “insane” person has to wrap a foil blanket around themselves to deflect or reflect something, but anyone who ever used a TV with rabbit ears knows that foil actually improves reception. This has always bugged me when the foil hats come out.
Anyway, here ends my pitch for Noroi. Shiraishi made two other similarly themed films which I like an awful lot, 2013’s Cult and 2009’s Occult, but has never matched Noroi, and I keep hoping. To be fair to the director, almost nobody has made any horror films that are this good. Find it and watch it, if you haven’t already.