The time has come to start horror anime month in earnest. First up we have Kakurenbo, a short film from 2005. It was done by Yamato Works, written & directed by Morita Shuuhei.
There’s a mysterious game of hide and seek played by seven children in fox masks. There’s just one problem. Every child who plays the game vanishes. Rumour says that they’re spirited away by demons or possibly creepy old guys with worn down ice cream vans. We see various groups. A pair of twin brothers, a trio, a pair of friends and a girl on her own. Giving us eight players for the game.
The biggest problem with the film is a very simple one. There’s a real lack of investment. The film isn’t long enough for us to get to know or care about the characters or what happens with them. The trio seem to be there for no adequately explored reason. The twin brothers never speak and have absolutely no motivation. The main pair have some motivation, to find the main protagonist’s missing sister. And while that is understandable at a basic level, it’s kind of weak in terms of getting the audience invested when you never see the siblings interact.
I will give some credit. Having a twisted area of the city where a bunch of children are fleeing and hiding for their lives is a potentially good set up. I also appreciate that the ending is allowed to be a horror ending. It doesn’t hold back or try to be nice and sanitised. So, that’s something.
I’ve already somewhat covered this, but the characters are really the big problem. In order for you to have a strong horror work, you have to get the audience to care about the characters. Spend some time with them, develop them and then put them in peril when you’ve built up that investment. In this, they try for a very short, clean narrative but in order to achieve that they sacrifice any potential for characterisation. You don’t give a shit what happens to these kids because you know virtually nothing about them. They’re simply too dull. Even if they aren’t actively obnoxious, it’s still a bit like trying to care about a slice of dry white bread that’s been left on the counter.
In terms of art, I’ll credit Kakurenbo with not falling into the too common horror pitfall of having a bunch of over the top gore and violence. Because, like I talked about with Elfen Lied last year, that’s not scary. It’s just ridiculous and quickly loses its impact. I may not give this film credit for being great horror, but I will gladly give it credit over the gore festival films that just have no sense of subtlety. And the Cel-shaded style does look pretty decent. Although it might not be the most suitable style for a horror work. The atmosphere around the city and the demon designs are pretty good.
The acting is decent enough. We have both Takeuchi Junko & Suzuki Masami in major roles. They may not be at their best in this since the characters are so mundane but they manage to turn out performances that are all right. Which is also how I’d describe the music. It’s okay.
None of these characters are developed enough to have interactions that come across as potentially romantic. I honestly don’t even know if these kids are old enough for that to be much of a concern with them. We seriously know that little about them.
This is a horror film that might be effective for actual children who are used to media having under-developed one-note characters. If I were watching this as a ten year old, it would probably scare me. The problem is this isn’t a film intended for that audience. It looks to be made for the younger end of the shounen spectrum IE, teenagers. And with teenagers, I don’t think it’s going to work all that well. But if you want to experience the atmosphere and watch a bunch of children get chased down by demons, by all means give it a try. For myself, I’ll give it a 5/10. I’ve certainly seen worse horror, on many occasions, but I also can’t call this a good one. It’s just kind of middling.