Friday, October 21, 2011

Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night (2010)

Though its origins can be traced back to 1980 and entered the cultural mainstream in 1999, the "found footage" genre has only recently become fairly commonplace. And with the genre's surge in popularity over the years, one of its most talked-about entries has been Paranormal Activity. Premiering at film festivals in 2007 and released theatrically in 2009, the low-budget haunted house story was a surprise hit at the box office. It was so popular that a sequel was almost immediately approved.

I reviewed Paranormal Activity 2 shortly after its release last year, but I've only recently discovered the existence of another Paranormal Activity 2. It turns out that the Japanese film industry decided to cash in on the success of the original movie by making their own sequel, Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night. I'm used to Italy making sequels and spin-offs to American horror movies (the most famous being Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2, an unlicensed sequel to George Romero's Dawn of the Dead), but this is the first I've heard of that from Japan. And once I'd heard about it, I just had to see it. So let's dig into that other Paranormal Activity 2 and see if it was as good as the American one.

Our tale of terror follows a young woman named Haruka Yamano (Noriko Aoyama), who has just returned to her home in Tokyo after visiting the United States. Her return is not quite a happy one, unfortunately, as her trip to America had been cut short due to a car accident that broke both of her legs. With her father out of the country on a business trip, Haruka is left in the care of her teenage brother Koichi (Aoi Nakamura).

Haruka awakens one morning to discover that her wheelchair has moved on its own volition despite its wheels being locked. Initially believing that someone had broken into the house, Koichi sets up video cameras throughout the house to catch the burglar if they try it again. But when his cameras record footage of the wheelchair moving again, Koichi begins to suspect that a supernatural being is at play. This suspicion is further reinforced when a pile of salt he leaves in Haruka's bedroom is scattered by unseen forces.

But that will be the least of Haruka and Koichi's worries. The haunting begins to escalate beyond messing with wheelchairs and salt, as things around the house end up smashed and Haruka is dragged out of bed by her hair. An attempt to have a Shinto priest exorcise the house only serves to make the demon haunting them angrier. And if you've seen the American Paranormal Activity movies, you'll know that this story won't have a happy ending.

A few years ago, it seemed like every horror movie that Hollywood cranked out was based on a Japanese one. So I guess Japan finally decided to give a little tit for tat and copy an American horror movie. Granted, they did what Hollywood didn't and labeled their movie a sequel instead of a remake. But having watched this flick from start to finish, I can say that yeah, it's pretty much a Japanese remake of the first Paranormal Activity. It follows the exact same formula, right down to copying scenes from the original. You'd think they'd do more with a so-called "sequel" besides doing exactly what the prior movie did, but nope, you'd be wrong.

The movie was written and directed by Toshikazu Nagae, who doesn't really bring anything new to the table outside of a few tweaks for the benefit of Japanese audiences. A real "been there, done that" feeling permeates the movie. That isn't always a bad thing, since the American Paranormal Activity 2 liberally borrowed from the first one yet was still very effective. But this particular movie feels more mundane, like it's just going through the motions.

Nagae does shake things up a little bit, however, by making the two main character siblings instead of a couple. By putting them in different rooms during the nighttime scenes, it gives him the chance to make the movie more visually intriguing. He accomplishes this by utilizing a split-screen effect to show us how the haunting affects Haruka and Koichi both simultaneously and separately as they sleep. It's a unique idea, but Nagae unfortunately doesn't really do much with it. Most of the scenes that involve it usually end up with both characters in the same room anyway.

And while Nagae's script closely follows what Oren Peli wrote for the first movie, there were a few things I feel like I should mention. One was the scene where the unlucky siblings bring in a Shinto priest to perform an exorcism. I'll give Nagae credit for going beyond the demonologist who said "oh crap, there's evil here, I can't help you" in the original Paranormal Activity. I just wish they'd capitalized on it more, though. There's just one scene with a priest, that's it. I don't know how spirituality and demon-fighting work in Japan, but couldn't they have gotten a bit more proactive in trying to overcome their ghost problem?

The other scene I just have to talk about is where the movie explains just how it's connected to the first one. [Be forewarned that this paragraph will contain SPOILERS, so skip ahead if you want to avoid them.] So you know how I mentioned that Haruka was in a car accident in the United States? It turns out that she accidentally ran over and killed Katie Featherston moments after the events of the first movie, and the angry demon has followed Haruka back to Tokyo. Not only does that contradict all three endings of the first movie, but thanks to the American sequel, it doesn't even fit within the continuity. I couldn't even begin to guess what was going through Nagae's head when he came up with that, but I'm fairly certain it didn't involve simple fact checking.

But at least the acting is solid. Noriko Aoyama and Aoi Nakamura are sadly not as memorable as their American counterparts, but they still do the best they can and are quite likable in their roles. I was actually surprised that Nakamura's character isn't as quick to provoke the monsters (or as completely douchebaggy) as Micah Sloat from the first movie, since the movie copied the original so much, but that was actually an okay change with me. Nakamura's performance is still engaging, as was Aoyama's. The pair are believable, enjoyable, and really hold the movie together.

If I may summarize my thoughts into a few words, Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night is okay. It's one of those movies that's just there, a simple way to kill an hour and a half without feeling like you've had your time wasted. The movie is a mediocre wannabe at worst. But then again, its best isn't really that great either. There are a few good scares, and one especially creepy scene near the end, but the movie isn't anything that hasn't been done better by other filmmakers. So I'm going to give the movie two and a half stars. It does make me wonder, however, if there will be a Japanese Paranormal Activity 3. I'd actually like to see that.

Final Rating: **½

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