Kōji Shiraishi’s Noroi: The Curse is a damn good example of J-horror done right. It ambles down the “found footage” road, but it also presents itself as a documentary – the last work of filmmaker and paranormal investigator Masafumi Kobayashi (Jin Muraki). Shiraishi’s picture once again makes great use of the Japanese curiosity over the afterlife and associated curses that plague the living.
What is most interesting about Noroi is how Shiraishi explores the world of the occult and supernatural through the lens of supposedly everyday people. The spiritual domain is introduced alongside the world of the insane, with some characters’ questionable grips on reality making for a run of unreliable witnesses.
Like most of the found footage flicks, the videotape is of utmost importance. Noroi opens in an editing room, introducing Kobayashi (Muraki) and informing the audience that he has vanished. Oh, and his wife (Miyoko Hanai) expires in a house fire. This conceit illuminates the fact that the protagonist is living on borrowed time, perhaps. It also speaks to calamity to come.
Kobayashi begins to investigate a peculiar lady named Junko Ishii (Tomono Kuga). Her neighbour complains of odd sounds deriving from Ishii’s flat, which leads to a trajectory of death and abnormality that includes the loss of a psychic kid (Rio Kanno) and the appearance of a tinfoil-clad Mitsuo Hori (Satoru Jitsunashi). Marika Matsumoto, playing herself, is along for the ride.
It is hard to describe the events of Noroi without giving too much away, but the film’s interest in ancient customs drives the fear home. Ishii is the descendant of some sort of priest in charge of performing a ritual to rid villagers of the curse of Kagutaba, a demonic presence that is believed to be at the core of deadly events.
Kobayashi’s exploration of these archaic and bizarre happenings sits at the core of Noroi. He is systematic as he laces together diverse strands of footage, but it soon becomes apparent that the character has a plan and is following his analytical predispositions to the letter.
As Kobayashi speaks to villagers and various experts, he also analyzes videotape and interviews people. Also spliced in is footage from a few Japanese reality shows, all with hosts and personalities playing themselves. The complete picture of Ishii and where she comes from emerges as more evidence is discovered, but all the while Kobayashi’s camera is witness to some startling stuff.
Shiraishi wisely increases the tension slowly before blowing the lid off for the final act. Things may be a little too zany for some, but it’s all part of the horror show that sweeps up Kobayashi and the other characters. The addition of a few erratic characters, like the brilliantly rendered Mr. Hori, makes Noroi a particularly unstable motion picture.
It is that volatility and terror that makes Noroi: The Curse such a wonderful piece of horror cinema. The found footage shtick has been done to death, but Shiraishi’s interest in the progression of investigation and the pressure granted by meticulously excavating the truth makes this something worth seeing on a blustery night with the lights off and the tinfoil handy.