A camera crew goes into an abandoned cursed mansion to view a mural painted by the former owner, Ichirō Mamiya. The ghost of his wife, Lady Mamiya, does not take too kindly to the intrusion. TV producer Kazuo (Shingo Yamashiro), his assistant/love interest Akiko (Nobuko Miyamoto), and local kook Yamamura (Tsutomu Yamazaki) do battle with the ghost. Will anyone get out alive?
This ghost is all over the place. First she possesses the TV presenter, Asuka, then she burns both her and the cameraman, Taguchi, to death. Then she kidnaps Kazuo’s teenage daughter Emi (pop star Nokko). The ghost is angry because her child died some thirty years ago; she takes the form of the shadows in the house as well as some sort of giant, multi-headed monster.
The major pop culture significance of the film is that it was released in conjunction with a video game of the same name and is considered to have influenced all the other haunted house games since. I’m not a gamer, so I don’t care, and compared to other Japanese horror movies, this is somewhat disappointing because it is pretty silly.
Sweet Home seems more like a Hollywood via Hong Kong movie than any Japanese horror movie I’ve seen. There don’t seem to be many Japanese folklore elements other than the stones stacked in a pile to quiet the spirit. This story could have taken place anywhere. The music sounds like any 80s orchestral score from the U.S. and I expected to see the Goonies ride by on their bikes at any time. It reminds me of a Spielberg adventure movie more than anything, even though there is some gore.
Taguchi burns up in the middle first, so that his torso is crawling around asking for help. Yamamura cooks and his flesh comes off, his face melts and then his bones fall apart. The ghost is pretty ridiculous, and there is a corpse of a baby that gets dragged around a lot.
I will say on a positive note that the beginning of the movie was filled with the same gate/bars imagery as I saw in Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan; at one point even the shadows make bars across a character. I loved the scenes in which the light is beginning to break into the house for the first time. This foreshadows the “evil shadows” plot point. I liked seeing Asuka vacuum dust off the mural to reveal it, but I was never able to get a good look at the painting. The “love conquers all” theme, which I almost never enjoy, is nicely offset by the fact that the desert-like setting of the opening shots contrasted with the lush forest at the end after love has done its conquering.