The Geisha of Gore Enters THE SHOCK LABYRINTH (2009)

A Film Review by The Geisha of Gore, Colleen Wanglund

In the United States, director Takashi Shimizu is probably best known for his JU-ON films (2000-2003), including the American remake, THE GRUDGE (2004), which he directed himself.  Personally one of my favorites from Shimizu is his vampire flick MAREBITO (2004) which moved away from the typical Bram Stoker-established origin story and went in a new and very entertaining direction.  Shimizu is a very good friend of Yoshihiro Nishimura and has appeared in a few of his films.  You’ve already read where I go on and on about how I think Nishimura is a SFX genius.  Nishimura returns the favor here with both special effects and a cameo acting appearance.

THE SHOCK LABYRINTH (Japan, 2009) is about a group of teens brought back together years after a tragedy occurred to one of the friends.  As children, the group of friends went to an amusement park where they snuck into the closed horror attraction.  While inside, a tragedy befalls the children, killing Yuki (Misako Renbutsu)—or so they thought.  Years later the teens are reunited and the one thought dead also makes an appearance.  After the power blinks out briefly in the apartment, Rin (Ai Maeda), Ken (Yuya Yagira), Motoko (Ryo Katsuji) and Myiu (Erina Mizuno) must take Yuki to the hospital because she appears to be injured.  It is the cliched “dark and stormy night,” and when the group of teens arrives at the hospital they find it empty.

Yuki, who is unconscious for the time being, is laid on a bench in the waiting room while the others attempt to find someone…anyone…to help them.  Yuki regains consciousness and runs off into the darkness of the hospital corridors and the others are left to find her.  The teens get deeper into the building and soon realize they are in the Shock Labyrinth—the same attraction they snuck into years earlier.  Eventually the past the children tried to forget comes back to haunt them…in more ways than one.

Ken, Motoko and Myiu—Yuki’s younger sister—along with Rin (who has been blind since birth) head into the dark corridors of the building and (those who can,) see something strange .  Before they can figure out what it is they saw they are cut off from each other.  Motoko and Myiu head off in one direction while Ken and Rin go another way, trying to find each other and Yuki.  Ken seems to be having waking dreams that turn out to be flashbacks to when the teens were children and lost in the labyrinth.  Slowly we begin to see what actually happened on that fateful day.  The teens themselves, as they remember their own parts in the events that led to Yuki’s disappearance, begin to become victims themselves.  Will anyone survive the Shock Labyrinth?

I made the mistake of reading a review that trashed this film after I had decided that I liked it.  Unfortunately it made me second guess myself….which has never happened to me before.  I decided to take a couple of days to think about my initial reaction to the film and determined to go with my gut.  I liked THE SHOCK LABYRINTH.  I thought Takashi Shimizu had done something different.  It was quite a departure from the JU-ON series that he wrote and directed.  Hell, he even directed the American remake!  One aspect that impressed me was that the movie was filmed in 3D, much like James Cameron’s AVATAR (2009).  It was done for the depth of the picture being captured as opposed to the cheap special effects of things seeming to come flying at us out of the screen.  Granted, the depth amounted to mostly rain and feathers and was unnecessary, but what the hell…I’ll give him and A for effort.

What I liked was the overall story.  What the teens see before they are cut off from each other is themselves as kids….and we see the same scene from the younger kids’ point of view, as well.  This is what ultimately triggers the suppressed memories about what actually happened that day in the Shock Labyrinth to come flooding back to the teens, especially Ken.  I sort of guessed what had happened but it’s still fun to see it played out.  It’s also kind of comical to see what happens to the teens.

Now I said I liked the movie, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t find anything wrong with it.  For one, there’s no real character development, so we can’t really sympathize or empathize with any of the teens.  What happened to them after they were found by park workers as children?  We get a brief glimpse of Ken in a hospital visiting his mother, and then we are told his mom died and that was why he moved away; but that’s it.  Why has he come back for a visit?  We are never told.  We also see that Rin and Motoko share an apartment together.  What we never truly find out is the nature of their relationship.  Are they a couple?  Are they related in some way?  No idea.  They seem more like a couple, but then after getting separated Motoko is only looking out for his own ass, so who knows? A little background would have been nice.

I think the reason I liked the movie so much is because of a weird connection that I think I have to it.  One of the films I went to see (and reviewed) at the Japan Society during the Japan Cuts film festival was TORMENTED (2011).  While not a sequel, the film was directed by Shimizu and shares some things with THE SHOCK LABYRINTH.  In TORMENTED, a young boy is pulled into a dream world by a six-foot-tall rabbit.  The dream world in TORMENTED is the same amusement park in SHOCK, including the labyrinth attraction.  There is also a scene in TORMENTED in which the boy and his older sister are at the movies—the movie they are watching is THE SHOCK LABYRINTH, and a bunny from SHOCK comes out of the screen and into the boy’s hands.  And for your information, the original title of TORMENTED is RABBIT HORROR 3D.  Both films were actually shot during the off-hours in the Fuji-Q High Land amusement park at the base of Mt. Fuji, and specifically in the Labyrinth of Horrors attraction.

Another aspect of THE SHOCK LABYRINTH that I enjoyed was the special effects.  When the kids enter the labyrinth, there are a myriad of “scenes” involving the potential horrors of a hospital–a demented doctor performing surgery on a patient that’s still awake, creepy doctors and nurses, and so on.  Later on in the movie they all seem to come alive, which is a lot of fun.  However, one of the scary scenes involved a doctor—both as a mannequin and in a painting on the wall—that looked suspiciously like my favorite low-budget horror director and SFX genius, Yoshihiro Nishimura.  Well, it turns out it was the SFX Master himself, and he did in fact do the monster effects for Shimizu’s movie.  I definitely got a kick out of that.

That aside, I will say that TORMENTED is the better film, both in the story and technically.  But I do stand by my original assessment of THE SHOCK LABYRINTH—I enjoyed it.  I found it quite entertaining, even if there are some things wrong with it.  I say see it anyway.  In a way, it’s reminiscent of the teen slasher flicks of the 1980s and we enjoyed most of those, right?  See the movie because it’s a lot of fun.

© Copyright 2012 by Colleen Wanglund


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