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St. John's Wort
Year: 2001

Megumi Okina and Yoichio Saito
Director: Shimoyama Ten
Writer: Goro Nakajima
Cast: Megumi Okina, Yoichiro Saito, Koji Ogura, Reiko Matsuo
The Skinny: Is it a computer game or a scary trip into the country for our heroes, and does anybody care?
by RainDog:
     The plot of St. John's Wort is simple: woman (Nami) goes to check out a creepy out-of-the-way estate bequeathed to her by her famous painter of a father. Her boyfriend (Kohei) tags along and a series of menacing events ensue. The twist is that Kohei is making a horror video game and plans to use the creepy place as the location of his next work, with the help of an artist and mapper back in the city. Meanwhile, the house is suitably creepy and filled with clues as to Nami's father's dark and abusive past and the possible presence of a psychotic sister. The title refers to a field of St. John's Wort planted in front of the house, which a character makes sure to point out means "revenge" in flower language. Check.
     On the plus side, this movie is filmed like a very enthusiastic amateur production. While unpolished and low-budget, the dizzying use of camera techniques at least shows effort. Many scenes use oversaturated colors for atmosphere, a variety of cameras are used, and some of the camera effects (such as a sliding shot into a keyhole as they first enter the house) are pretty, if pointless. The set design is fine, and if I was feeling generous, I'd say that the acting is passable, or at least not embarrassing.
     On the negative side, this movie is an amateur production whose enthusiasm can't begin to save it. Digital and handheld shots try to cash in on recent horror movie tropes and aren't very interesting. The film seems to borrow from Toshiharu Ikeda's Evil Dead Trap, both in tone and plot elements, but without the steady directoral skill (or number of potential victims). What really kills any kind of effective atmosphere, though, is the computer game tie-in. It's made clear early on that the game is tied into the events at the house, and vice versa, in a bid to be edgy and interesting in a self-reflexive way similar to Wes Craven's Scream. [NOTE: Those who plan to see the movie might want to skip to the last paragraph at this point.]
     Unless you're making a surreal film like Naked Lunch or a conman movie like House of Games or The Sting, the "Is This Real or Not?" concept is a risky script device. In the best of circumstances, and if the unreliable narrator is the filmmaker (that is, not a question whether a character is deluded) it's even riskier. Within the first five minutes St. John's Wort sets up the possibility that what we're watching is nothing more than the plot of a horror computer game, and an uninteresting horror computer game at that. Even if this movie had been scary and filled with tension, if we reach the the end to have the director say, "Just Kidding!", I think most lingering feelings of goodwill will be lost. It's a terrible joke not only because it's unoriginal and cheap, but also because it shows the filmmakers' lack of confidence in their product. They know the movie isn't very good, that the plot isn't very solid, and that they had little idea of how to conclude the action. So, they try to save the whole film with a clever twist that fails miserably. It's like the director suddenly reaching through the fourth wall to slap us around with a big grin on his face.
That being said, this is not an entirely terrible movie. The moments when its taking itself seriously have an acceptable level of creepy mood and tension, and the pace is steady. It's only when the filmmakers try to be clever that we begin to lose interest. (RainDog 2002)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Universe Laser
Japanese Language Track
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen