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Issue #168a HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES July 14th, 2003

Tales of the Unusual
(2000; Toho/Fuji Television Network/Pony Canyon/Imagica/Kyodo Television/Nikkatsu)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Japanese: Yo nimo kimyo na monogatari -- eiga no tokubetsuhen

Anthologies are rarely consistent and this slick collection of four stories (each by a different director) has its ups and downs. The opening segment and the DVD artwork lead one to expect a basic line-up of shock stories but TALES OF THE UNUSUAL ends up being a rather cheerful enterprise that earns a passing grade by veering just enough from the standard path to keep one interested. In the requisite wraparound segment, a group of people waiting in a small, out-of-the-way train station pass the time by listening to a quartet of strange stories offered up by a mysterious man in black.

"One Snowy Night," from director Masayuki Ochiai (HYPNOSIS, PARASITE EVE), concerns a group of plane crash survivors marooned in the mountains during a snowstorm. Under the leadership of a take-charge executive, the party treks through the blizzard to the spot where a cabin is indicated on their map. However, after making little progress, they decide to leave one injured girl behind with the promise that they will come back for her after the weather subsides. The rest of the party finally reaches shelter but gradually come to the conclusion that something quite deadly is in the cabin with them. There are some nicely atmospheric touches in this segment but an obvious debt to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and some muddled moments work against its success. The cast here includes Akiko Yada and Toho kaiju eiga favorite Akira Takarada.

Masayuki Suzuki's light-hearted "Samurai Cellular" unfolds in 1702 with cowardly minister Oishi Kuranosuke discovering the titular device on the road one day. It has been deposited there by someone from the future anxious to test the accuracy of recorded history, specifically whether Oishi's position as a major figure in the Chushingura Incident is deserved. Although Oishi does everything he can to weasel out of his responsibilities, the voice on the other end of this weird device may yet convince him to stand tall and fulfil his destiny. Those bothered by time travel stories in which the past is casually altered without some catastrophic effect on the present will not be too receptive to this story but it is well performed and offers a clever coda. Kiichi Nakai and Megumi Okina star.

Defeated by a super computer in a widely publicized match, chess master Akira Kato (Shinji Takeda) suffers mental collapse and becomes a shiftless derelict in the opening minutes of "Chess." Three years later, Akira is plucked from the gutter by a multi-millionaire who lost a bundle betting on him. Knowing that Akira is now penniless, he instead demands that the man indulge him with a game of chess, one that has disturbing consequences for the "pieces." Is this situation a figment of Akira's mental breakdown or are actual flesh and blood human beings dying along with their corresponding game pieces? Akira cannot go anywhere in the city without his surroundings transforming into part of the game, which allows for some clever FX and art direction that culminate in a life sized recreation of the board, with Akira's wife as his queen. The resolution is mawkish and unconvincing but the visual appeal of the piece and Mamoru Hoshi's confident direction keep it worthwhile.

Last up is Hisao Ogura's "The Marriage Simulator," which concerns a young couple planning for their wedding day. In addition to all of the usual frills, the firm they choose also offers a brand new option that allows participants to experience a virtual reality simulation of what will likely happen to them after they tie the knot. According to the computer, this particular couple's future is grim indeed but a later mix-up by the company just might make a difference to the outcome. Subtract that slight science fiction hook and you are left with a standard love story that rarely engages, though leads Izumi Inamori and Takashi Kashiwabara are not at fault.

Cover art courtesy Universe.

"One Snowy Night". Image courtesy Universe.

"Samurai Cellular". Image courtesy Universe.

"Chess" Image courtesy Universe.

"The Marriage Simulator". Image courtesy Universe.

Universe #5672 (Hong Kong label)

Dolby Digital 2.0

Sync Sound Japanese Language Track

Optional Subtitles in English and Chinese (Traditional or Simplified)

11 Chapters Illustrated in the Menu With Clips

Letterboxed (1.85:1)

Coded for Region 3 Only

NTSC Format

126 Minutes

Contains mild violence and horror

DVD menu courtesy Universe.

Hong Kong: IIB

Although it lacks anamorphic enhancement and 5.1 sound (two elements likely included on the Region 2 Japanese disc), this is a very satisfactory presentation. The image is consistently crisp and accurately colored, and the audio has pronounced separations and is quite dimensional. English subtitles are very well translated but stray briefly out of sync near the end of "Samurai Cellular." The chapter index only includes eight windows but there are actually eleven stops programmed, along with a second index that allows one to jump to the beginning of each segment. The sole extra is a trailer, which presents the stories in a different order, while the synopsis on the packaging mixes up the sequence in yet another way.

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