Another (Anazā)

Japan (2012) Dir. Takeshi Furusawa

In 1998, just before he was due to transfer to his school, student Koichi Sakakibara (Kento Yamazaki) suffers a pneumothorax attack and is hospitalised. While recovering there Koichi sees a school girl wearing an eye patch, wandering around the hospital clutching a doll. He follows her down to an unmarked basement where the girl gives him a cryptic warning then disappears. When Koichi finally starts school he is shocked to see the girl, Mei Misaki (Ai Hashimoto), among the students of his new class 3-3. However everyone else, including the teachers, treat Mei as though she doesn’t exist. Koichi talks to her immediately feeling the wrath of his classmates but when they start to die, Koichi suspects that Mei is the key to their deaths.

If you’re an anime fan then this title will be familiar to you as it was one of the big hits of last year (which gets a UK release from MVM in November). While this live action adaptation may seem inevitable, the origins of this tale are in the 2009 novel by Yukito Ayatsuji which became a manga a year later. It follows in the great but somewhat oversaturated tradition of stories detailing the actions of vengeful spirits many years after their sentient existence came to an end. While no modern multimedia devices or old buildings are possessed there is a curse that is driving the youngsters to their deaths, which is the other stalwart of J-horror storylines from day one.

When a story has been translated and adapted across a number of mediums it is difficult to resist the inevitable temptation to make comparisons between the various versions presented to us, and Another is no exception, with the anime version being the other under the microscope here. For those of you who have seen it, many elements of the anime reappear in this outing from director Takeshi Furusawa – whose horror credentials include 2006’s Ghost Train as well as serving as assistant director on Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse – either as direct reproductions or with some alterations. However with less time to explore the full depth of the story than the anime, this version unravels the tale at an uneven pace.

Through veiled hints from his classmates Koichi slowly gets the message that Mei is not to be spoken to but his curiosity overrides his desires for classroom popularity and persists in seeking answers from this mysterious outcast. However she rewards him with more cryptic messages until this disobedience of the class rule results in our first grisly death. Well, it was supposed to be grisly but Furusawa’s attempts at being clever makes it more risible than anything. The outcome is that Koichi becomes persona non grata so he and Mei begins an illicit investigation of their own, and pinpoint the start of the curse with the death of another girl named Misaki of class 3-3 way back in 1972, in which a simple but unhealthy act of denial sparks off a string of deaths that later gives way to a subsequent policy of leaving class 3-3 one desk down for the “dead one”.

It is only to avoid going into too much detail that we leave his summary on such a glib note but the explanation of this curse is a tad complex anyway, with the idea of leaving someone out in order to avoid future deaths. Of course this could be solved by one of two ways: 1) just leave an empty seat and included everyone as usual or 2) just simply stop having a class 3-3. But that wouldn’t make for an exciting horror yarn would it? Sadly, this 108 minute film is a tad on the empty side, with Furusawa’s attempts at low key unnerving atmospherics comes across as slightly dreary and listless. The apparent paltry budget which often helps such films on the mood aspect does little to help lift this beyond dour for the bulk of its running time.

At first the deaths of the school kids are intermittent with only two in the first hour or so. Furusawa devotes the bulk of the time with Mei and Koichi’s exploration into the past, along with the introduction of a number of distracting secondary players including Koichi’s aunt Reiko (Ai Katô), who just happened to be a part of class 3-3 in 1972. The final act set in a small training camp sees the students offed in rapid succession in a series of ridiculously contrived Final Destination inspired demises that are guaranteed to elicit laughs instead of engendering feelings of horror and upset. The lack of budget is badly exposed in these scenes, especially the ropey CGI for the “spirit of death” that only Mei can see with her magic eye (yes the eye patch was for a reason).

Compounding the matter are the two leads who are desperately wooden and uninspiring in their roles. At least in the anime Mei had some kind of enigmatic aura about her but Ai Hashimoto is unable to present this side of her aloof character. Admittedly she shows a little spark of personality in the action packed final act but not enough to compensate for the previous 90 minutes. Kento Yamazaki is hampered by a similar lack of opportunity to make Koichi interesting, blending in with the background so much that this reviewer mistook him for one of the similar looking supporting cast during the class room scenes. As ever in these films the adults do their best to bring a touch of gravitas and seriousness to the proceedings that the youngsters supposedly can’t but end up overacting, while the kids just go for it regardless.

Furusawa makes a valiant attempt with this live action version of Another and while the story is successfully relayed, the budget limitations causes irreparable harm to its impact as the gruesome, chilling horror it could have been.

Sorry to be so predictable but the anime wins this one.