A girl dressed in white stands alone in the woods, her hands smeared with blood. Around her lie the dead bodies of three boys and her three girlfriends. She is Misa Kuroi (Natsuki Kato) the teenage witch. Rushed to hospital, Misa awakens with no memory of past events, which draws scant sympathy from the cops hovering at her bedside (“That’s convenient”), while reporters swarm outside. When a mysterious force kills a nurse and a forensic pathologist, scoop-hungry Maeda (Kenichi Endo) fans the flames of controversy around Misa, causing her to be shunned by all her friends, except loyal Hitomi and Kenji. Kenji’s psychologist dad tries to convince Misa she isn’t a witch. He briefly draws her out of her shell, but when Maeda hires a girl to pose as Misa for a TV stunt, the repercussions prove apocalyptic.
The fourth Eko Eko Azarak movie tries something a little different… and fails spectacularly. Skewed more towards psychological character study and media satire, the film presents us with a Misa Kuroi who is a far cry from the avenging angel fans know and love. Natsuki Kato’s Misa shares her predecessors’ fragile beauty, but is frustratingly weak, weepy and totally reliant on her friends. Suffering flashbacks to her backwoods trauma and prone to frantically washing her hands, she is unrecognisable as the girl who faced down the forces of evil, and frankly rather whiny and annoying. No rubber monsters or CG demons here, this low-budget, shot-on-video production restrains its supernatural elements to a prowling camera, concentrating more on Misa’s soap opera dilemma. Her biggest worry seems to be: “No one will want to be around me any more.” The film grinds through touchy-feely psychotherapy while Kenji’s dad tries to coax Misa out of her shell, and painfully prolonged high school scenes wherein Misa’s classmates recoil from her in horror, are slowly cajoled back by Hitomi, only to turn on her again when they see “fake Misa” on TV. The dumb kids think she can be in two places at once.
Most of the screen-time is spent with the rabid media hounds, who may as well have devil’s horns. The sleazy hacks are eager to discover if Misa was raped or not, and whether she was a virgin - which would “make her more sympathetic than a club girl.” Maeda sums up their attitude when he unsubtly declares: “Television doesn’t have any guilt or conscience.” The film is riddled with inconsistencies, like the cop who starts out highly suspicious of the heroine then suddenly leaps to her defence, and the sudden revelation that Misa’s father is terrified of her. In Eko Eko Azarak II: Birth of the Wizard we see Misa neglected by her self-involved parents. Here Misa’s mere existence has somehow driven her dad insane and the last she hears of him is a phone-message where he strangles his wife and asks: “Misa, are you satisfied now?”
New director Kosuke Suzuki pulls off a few creepy moments thanks to some unnerving sound effects and surreal details, but wastes time trying to convince us it’s all in Misa’s head when fans know otherwise. The biggest kicker comes in the nonsensical finale (spoiler warning) where “fake Misa” stabs herself on live TV (Why, you ask? Who knows?) and nasty Maeda daubs her blood over real Misa’s face. Her powers reawakened, she utters her famous “Eko Eko Azarak” incantation in a climax best described as Carrie (1976) meets Network (1976). That Misa the Good Witch, the heroine we’ve been rooting for since part one would slaughter her loved ones, then wipe out Japan just doesn’t make a lick of sense. The apocalypse can’t have been all that permanent, since Misa returned for two more movies in 2006.