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  Isola: Multiple Personality Girl Who's that Girl?
Year: 2000
Director: Toshiyuki Mizutani
Stars: Yoshino Kimura, Yû Kurosawa, Ken Ishiguro, Makiko Watanabe, Satomi Tezuka, Susumu Terajima, Kazuhiro Yamaji, Hideo Murota, Shirô Shimomoto, Yôzaburô Ito, Yuriko Hiro’oka, Hôka Kinoshita, Kiriko Shimizu, Tetsu Sakuma, Yoko Chôsokabe
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Following the Kobe earthquake in 1995, Yukari Komo (Yoshino Kimura) comes to the city hoping to help survivors, but discovers she has the psychic ability to read people’s thoughts. Her efforts to help a traumatised old man suffering flashbacks to the Second World War, backfire when he commits suicide and the other survivors react violently towards the well-meaning outsiders trying to help. Shortly thereafter a schoolgirl mysterious drowns herself in a toilet bowl cast on the street. A janitor is compelled to stab himself in the neck. Yukari is drawn to a troubled teenager called Chisato (Yû Kurosawa), who is shunned by locals as a freak since she suffers from multiple personality disorder. Her thirteen different alter-egos range from a grungy, self-harming street punk to a meek five year old child who loves to draw. Feeling an affinity with this tortured soul, Yukari resolves to help Chisato, but one of her personas is Isola, a malevolent supernatural being who may have caused the earthquake.

In Japan the primary audience for horror in manga, anime and live-action film are adolescent girls. Hence the development of a sub-genre that dials down hardcore splatter in favour of subtle psychological chills and emotionally nuanced sub-plots, usually centred around a long-haired ghost girl who stands-in for every high school kid who’s ever felt like an outsider in a largely conformist society. Sold overseas as “J-horror”, the genre isn’t representative of Japanese horror as a whole and has fast become clichéd, but ingeniously taps the anxieties of its target audience, even as it alienates grouchy horror fans craving more visceral terrors.

For what is essentially another variant on the Ring (1998) formula, Isola: Multiple Personality Girl has a rather convoluted origin, being derived from a novel by Yosuke Kishi which was in turn inspired by the short story “Tales of Moonlight and Rain” taken from the ghost story anthology Ugetsu Monogatori - famously adapted into a movie by Kenji Mizoguchi in 1953. On top of that the film draws explicitly upon the Kobe earthquake, opening with an apparently sincere dedication to its survivors and closing with footage of the memorial site erected in its aftermath.

One might question whether using a real-life disaster as a backdrop for a horror movie is in good taste, but the muted visuals and low-key storytelling captures the shell-shocked aftermath in gritty, believable fashion without recourse to hysteria. Toshiyuki Mizutani directs with a penchant for blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em creepy moments (e.g. when “Isola” telekinetically animates a little paper doll; or when Yukiko finds herself conversing with all thirteen of Chihiro’s personalities), but his snail’s pacing will infuriate some. As played by winsome Yoshino Kimura, Yukiko is a frustratingly vague and passive heroine who has no effect on the story’s final outcome. Beautiful model/J-pop star/actress Yû Kurosawa, granddaughter of director Akira Kurosawa (proving his genius extends to his DNA), isn’t quite up to the acting challenge of crafting thirteen distinct personalities, but is suitably eerie. However, a late act twist casts Isola and the whole supernatural angle aside, in favour of a science fiction plot. Suddenly, Isola becomes the story of a lady scientist (Satomi Tezuka) persecuting her partner (Ken Ishiguro) for an accidental death that wasn’t really his fault. The story resolves itself with some soap opera speech-making and a self-sacrifice from a peripheral character that renders every aspect that held the audience interested, completely moot and shamefully squanders a promising premise.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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