X-Cross (XX (ekusu kurosu): makyô densetsu)

Japan (2007) Dir. Kenta Fukasaku

It can’t be easy following in the footsteps of a famous and successful parent, not in the least the weight of expectation on you. Just ask Kenta Fukasaka, son of the late Kinji Fukasaku, (Battle Royale). Kenta has plied his trade with low budget sci-fi/action horror fare, such as X-Cross, based on the novel Sono kêtai wa XX de by Nobuyuki Joko.

Shiyori Mizuno (Nao Matsushita) and Aiko Hiuke (Ami Suzuki) leave Tokyo for the remote hot spring resort of Ashikari after Shiyori broke up with her cheating boyfriend Keiichi Asamiya (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi). While Shiyori is alone at their cabin, she finds a mobile phone which suddenly rings.

A man on the other end named Akira Mononobe (Nozomu Iwao) frantically yells at Shiyori to get out of the village or she’ll die. Shiyori thinks this is a prank until hoards of aggressive villagers suddenly try to break into the cabin. Shiyori flees for her life with only Mononobe for support, who reveals the hideous secret of this eerie village.

Fukasaku might not achieve the same legendary status as his father but has tried to carve his own niche in filmmaking, embracing the quirkiness of the genres he has chosen to focus on. With titles such as Yo-Yo Cop Girl to his name, Fukasaku Jr. demonstrates an eye for a spectacle albeit with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

The film is broken down into five chapters largely detailing concurrent timelines, but the habit is also to revisit the past to fill in some details and set-up the next scene. Starting as it means to go on, the film opens with what looks to be the ending before zipping back a few hours to the girls driving up the village.

Along the way they almost run down a strange woman dressed in Gothic Lolita attire an wearing an eye patch (Ayuko Iwane) who makes a scissor “clip clip” gesture to them. As she’s on the DVD cover you know she’ll play a bigger part in the film later on, but what that is I won’t spoil. Arriving at the springs the villagers seem creepy with their odd gaits as their walked and dishevelled appearances.

Having established this is a place one should avoid the girls decide to stay put anyway and have that a hot spring bath (wearing towels – sorry chaps) where Shiyori sulks off on her own, before throwing her mobile phone into the river. The phone in the cabin belongs to Mononobe’s sister whom he was hoping to reach since she had disappeared while at the village.

With Shiyori’s fate already documented the focus switches to Aiko, whom we see make a mysterious phone call as soon as Shiyori leaves the baths. Later she is seen on her own, keeping in contact with Shiyori, their conversation remaining deliberately ambiguous to explain the askew viewpoint of both women, born out of a secret Aiko kept from Shiyori.

But Aiko is soon in trouble herself and in a nice bit of parallel storytelling, the two plights often intertwine with physical distance kept between them, increasing the tension with these near misses. Thankfully a mutual friend Yayoi (Shoko Nakagawa) in Tokyo and sitting by a computer, is on hand for support to both and relay valuable information to them.

This is important in the development of the story, which, despite its often illogical journey, throws in some neat misdirection to keep the momentum going. Unfortunately once certain facts become established some revelations are a tad predictable although others do actually catch us by surprise.

Naturally it would be spoiling things to reveal the horrific secret the village hides but it is also a little difficult to discuss the threat that faces Shiyori and Aiko without mentioning it. The deep rural setting and unpleasant looking people with their disturbing demeanour only tells half the story, which should have set alarm bells ringing for the girls but then we wouldn’t have a film.

What I will say is that if you seen horror films set in eerie remote locations with odd inhabitants then you’ll probably be able to predict how this plays out; suffice to say the premise behind this bizarre tradition is rather different, and contributes much to the sinister appearances of the villagers as they pursue their victims on mass.

It might not be based on real beliefs but with Japanese folklore being heavy on the supernatural, it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if there was some truth in its roots. Then again Fukasaku tends to veer towards the silly with some of his ideas – such as Aiko literally switching from scared interloper to angry ass kicker – leaving us wondering if this was intended to be a comedy.

As far as genuine chills and scares go, the film is a little to excitable to shred our nerves and some of the action is, as already suggested, a bit on the campy side, as if Fukasaku has been watching Noboru Iguchi films for inspiration, although thankfully he never goes THAT extreme. There are some moments of palpable tension and the last twenty minutes never let up in terms of pacing which makes for a breathless climax.

While Fukasaku knows how to create the right atmosphere and has a good eye for shot composition, he falls short at coaxing believable performances from his cast. They seldom seem truly comfortable in their roles, although they approach them with typical Asian aplomb, or perhaps once again the intention was humour over horror.

X-Cross is a film which shows us an ambitious director who at the time was unable to fully realise that ambition on screen but makes a decent fist of it nonetheless. I’m not sure this film will have enough for mainstream horror fans or might lack the panache hardcore J-horror fans would expect but there is 90 minutes of sufficiently competent quirky entertainment to be found here.