Hide And Go Kill (Hitori kakurenbo)

Japan (2008) Dir. Tomoya Kainuma

A decade after Ringu first appeared, Japanese filmmakers were still shamelessly using its basic concept as the basis for their own stories with varying results. This low budget, shot on video puntastic effort may upgrade the technology for a (then) modern setting bit that is as far as the originality goes.

Presented as a portmanteau story, the central conceit revolves around a game of Hide and Seek for the lonely called Hide And Seek Alone, An oxymoron if there ever was one. The rules are rather silly and complex:

First, the game is to take place in the early hours of the morning. The player is to take a stuffed toy, unstitch its belly, remove the stuffing, and replace it with rice and nail cuttings (!), then tie the toy back up with red string. Next, the lights are to be turned off except for the TV at 2:55am then the toy is dunked in a bowl of water.

When it turns 3:00am, the player then stabs the toy three times, say “You’re now the Devil” then go hide in a closet. A hideous, deformed woman will then crawl out of the TV (ahem!) and come find you. If she doesn’t you can then take a mouthful of salt water, spit it on the toy and say “I win” three times and you’ve won the game. You are then requested to discuss you experience on the website forums.

Obviously, if you don’t win you are dead, turned into a rather familiar looking petrified, contorted, comatose figure just in case the inspiration for this film hadn’t been made clear enough, – or more accurately, the brazen laziness of co-writers Jun’ichi Kanai and director Tomoya Kainuma needed further exposure.

In the first story, Midori (Saki Yamaguchi) is a schoolgirl enjoying a popular mobile phone novel called Lonely Girl, in which the eponymous girl talks about the Hide And Seek Alone game. Since Midori’s best friend Fumika is bullied out of school by jealous girls for dating the school hunk, Midori plays the game to occupy her time, but things start to get weird.

The second segment feature a trio of classmates – two boys and a girl – discussing the game. One of them has played and thought something weird had happened so he enlists the other two to set up a video camera to record the events as he plays it again. Finally, the third chapter takes us back to the beginning to meet the ostracised schoolgirl who started the Lonely Girl blog and her experiences playing the game.

Mobile phone novels are or were a thing in Japan but not so much here in the west, making this zeitgeist concept seem rather alien to international audiences, but we can relate to it as a parallel to viral internet fads. Have said that, information about the Hide And Seek Alone game are shared via the internet making this less an urban legend and more a seemingly deliberate and cruel endeavour by some nasty person.

We may have met the original Lonely Girl but this bizarre game exists before she began her blog and novel, leaving the history of its creation a mystery beyond a heavy allusion to it being supernatural and demonic in construct. At with Ringu we had an idea of why Sadako was angry and punishing the living from beyond the grave, who or whatever is doing the spooking here must be either bored or inherently evil.

Since nothing is revealed about this, one would hope that some clues might have been dotted throughout the film but this is not to be. Making it more confusing is the plot of the first act initially not having much relevance to the game, the narrative focusing more on Midori’s troubles. The bad girl gang at school spread rumours of Fumika sleeping with the school hunk and tarnish her reputation, made worse when said hunk drops her for supposed being so brazen.

Fumika stays away from school, her contact with Midori being through text messages, occasional phone calls and the game’s website forums where Fumika’s tales about the game are getting darker. On the day Fumika decides to return to school she happens to see Midori talking with her ex-hunk and gets the wrong idea, beginning a vengeful campaign against Midori which is implied to extend across into the game.

Despite all three segments being self-contained the problem is, aside from the flimsy plots, it is the same scenario repeated three times – the rules are explained in detail thrice, the procedure performed in full thrice, and of course the demises are the same. This constant repetition within a 75-minute run time really exposes the lack of scope of the script and lack of depth given to the mythology behind the evil spirit killing off Japan’s teenagers.

Taking its cue from the format of Ju-On but forgetting to attach an overarching cohesive thread, it is hard not to dismiss this as three separate submissions on a theme, only from the same writers and director. Because it is a low budget affair, with models for the main cast – ensuring plenty of aesthetic appeal – and limited visual effects, one feels hard pressed to be completely negative about this film.

It wears its earnestness on its sleeve even if it isn’t entirely original, and whilst it can conjure up occasional creepy moments, its attempts at creating a chilling atmosphere often result in ennui and inertia. The cast give it their all but Tomoya Kainuma isn’t able to get everything from them required to convey the terror being experienced.

Hide And Go Kill is an odd film that is either too ambitious for its own good or conversely not ambitious enough. It surprisingly spawned a sequel a year later, which has to be better as it certainly couldn’t be any worse. Perhaps most alarmingly however, is the biggest take away is where the hell were the parents?