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by Jay Seaver

"By any other letter and name, it's still a B-movie."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: What was once called a "B-movie" is now "V-cine". The former is an American term while the latter is Japanese, but the idea remains the same: Genre films shot quickly on lesser stock (where that used to mean 16mm or black-and-white instead of 35mm color, now that means video), with a low enough budget that profitability is almost guaranteed. They're the very definition of disposable entertainment - generally not great movies, but good enough when you're looking for something in the genre that you haven't seen before.

For Hallucination, that would be a combination of yakuza and horror. Tatsuya (Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi) is a low-level yakuza who is charged by "big brother" Sejima (Riki Takeuchi) to watch over his girlfriend Kumiko (Kimika Yoshino) as she detoxes in a secluded cabin. Along for the ride are a former nurse (Hitomi Miwa), a couple other gangsters at Tatsuya's level, and their hit-man guide, who is the only one who can lead them to the cabin (and presumably back again), but who is just a bit unstable. Kumiko starts seeing things and running off while they're still trudging through the woods, and their guide is inclined to abandon the party. It turns out that this area is a long-time dumping ground for bodies, who are not resting easy. They're not zombies, though - they're the sort of phantoms who prey upon interlopers' paranoia, encouraging them to eliminate each other and add to the ghosts' numbers. Which is surprisingly easy, when you consider that Kumiko isn't the only one with past or present drug problems.

This feature's best-known actor is probably Takeuchi, star of the Dead or Alive trilogy and a couple dozen other gangster and horror movies, who also serves as executive producer through his "Riki Project" company. He's a guy with plenty of experience making this type of movie, though he's now past the age of being its star. As is frequently the case, he kind of plays down to his material. He's not bad, per se, but it's a small part and the sort of thing he's played often, so he's maybe not putting out the same effort as his younger, hungrier co-stars.

Amount of effort doesn't necessarily translate into quality of performance, but the cast is solid enough. It's the kind of movie where Ms. Yoshino is the only one really required to act, and just enough to give the audience the idea that, yes, Kumiko is spoiled and selfish. By contrast, Yamaguchi and Miwa really just have to get their lines out when discussing the situation. Beyond that, all that's required are freaking-out skills, which everyone who needs to display them has. So, considering those admittedly low standards, they do pretty well. The shaggy Yamaguchi isn't a conventional leading man, but he's got an easy charm, almost too nice to be a gangster. The other yakuza have clearly delineated personalities to go along with their different looks, so they aren't quite cannon fodder.

Director Takeshi Miyasaka does a good job with his obviously low budget. If you know B-movies, you know the drill: It's shot in locations where you don't actually have to build sets, and special effects are basically limited to practical effects that can be done on set - squibs, bloody make-up jobs, disappearing into a bank of fog, and the like. So there's nothing that would take a great deal of money to do well (and thus look lame when it has to be done on a shoestring), but also nothing that will flat-out wow the audience. The movie is thus forced to rely on how the cast sells the story for success.

And that's OK enough. The screenplay by Nouaki Kotani and Naoyuki Tomomatsu hits most of the right points - hidden pasts and presents, a potential gang war, betrayals, spooky things hiding in the corners, people leaving and not coming back - and has the characters for the most part react logically to them. I must admit to not being totally sure what Kumiko's real deal was at the end of the movie - she spends a great deal sedated as opposed to being a really active participant. But other than that, nothing ever feels wrong or unlikely, given the situation.

And that's what B-movies (or V-cine) are for, I guess - delivering the audience the kind of movies they're looking to see, without a lot of fuss. "Hallucination" is eminently rentable when you're looking for an hour and a half of your basic guns 'n ghosts story.

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originally posted: 08/01/05 08:35:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2005 Fantasia Festival series, click here.

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