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Film Review: Dead Girl Walking (2004)

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SYNOPSIS:

The unimaginable happens. Sayuri is pronounced ‘dead’ by her doctor, but her body continues to function. Her wounds begin to fester and her body begins to rot. Her once loving mother, father and sister are repulsed as their home starts reeking of decomposing flesh. Unable to bear it any longer, they corner Sayuri holding a can of gasoline…. She flees for her life, but is snatched away by a strange man who runs a freak show, where Sayuri is forced to exhibit her putrefied body and dance before an audience of men dressed in black. Isolated in the desolate hills, Sayuri thinks she has escaped them, but she’s wrong….

REVIEW:

Some horror fans out there might recognize the name Hideshi Hino in connection with the infamous Guinea Pig series from the eighties. He of course not only directed and produced two of the sequels (Flower of Flesh & Blood and Mermaid in a Manhole), but also wrote/created the original concept behind the films.  In case you didn’t spend your youth watching weird torture porn from Japan, you will more likely be familiar with Hino’s work in the world of manga and such titles as Hell Baby or Panorama of Hell. In 2004 the publishing company Pony Canyon released a series of six films based on Hino’s works, of which Dead Girl Walking is the second installment.

Unfortunately, I’m not personally overly familiar with Hino’s comics. I have come across his name more than once while researching horror comics and I’m familiar with his strange and grotesque drawing style. Just never gotten around buying any of his work. While some deeper knowledge of Hito’s manga works could have been useful for writing this review, I do have to say that even if I would have had no knowledge of who Hideshi Hino is, it would have still been fairly obvious that Dead Girl Walking was based on some sort of visual literary work. It has that stylized atmosphere about it that you often see in these kinds of films. The deeply contrasted black and white scenes echo the pages of Hino’s mangas and together with the grotesque but also somehow comical subject matter, it’s obvious that this is not just some random artsy horror piece.

The black and white imagery together with the themes of body horror and occasional over acting reminded me of the 1989 classic “Tetsuo, the Iron Man” and the gentle instrumental soundtrack brought to mind horror from the seventies and early eighties, where horrible violent imagery was contrasted with the most mellow sounds. I’m not sure if either of these connotations were intentional, but I enjoyed them nevertheless. And I have to say that ended up enjoying the whole films a lot more than I thought I would. The subject matter itself did not sound overly interesting to me but I found myself pleasantly surprised. Admittedly I did have to sleep on it and really give the whole film a bit of thought, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.

Granted, Dead Girl Walking is a fairly bizarre film and one that doesn’t really follow the classic three acts structure. It is just a simple a story about a girl who dies and then rots away while being hunted by her weird family. That’s pretty much the long and the short of it. Not much of a narrative, but with the running time of only 44 minutes there really isn’t that much time for massive story arcs. However, the charm of Dead Girl Walking isn’t in its brilliant script but in the atmosphere that it has. It’s surrealistic and whimsical all at the same time and that more than anything is what’s so appealing about it.

For me personally, another reason for liking the film as much as I did might be its director. When starting to watch a weird little short film about a living dead school girl, I was not expecting to see it being directed by one of my favorite horror directors Koji Shiraishi. Ever since seeing his 2005 mockumentary masterpiece “Noroi: The Curse”, I have taken every opportunity to familiarize myself with more of his work. While I have managed to dig out some of his films that are perhaps lesser known in the west, Dead Girl Walking had completely passed me by. While it may not be the best example of his work, it’s definitely one worth seeing. It’s something completely different in the sea of generic horror and will most definitely stick in your mind.

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