Movies: Hundred Stories (Kousetsu Hyaku Monogatari: Kowai)

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010-02-25 03:41:07 No comments

Here is another instance of the same material being adapted multiple times—both in live-action and in animation, and with the animated version turning out far better in every respect. The original story is Hundred Stories by Natsuhiko Kyogoku, he who gave us the intriguing Summer of the Ubume—a supernatural detective story where the Fox Mulder in question doesn’t believe in the supernatural, and where the strangest thing of all is the human mind.

I enjoyed Ubume, and also enjoyed Hundred Stories in its anime incarnation, marketed in English by Geneon as Requiem from the Darkness. When I found out a live-action adaptation of Stories had been released, I made an effort to find it, but I’m now convinced my efforts would have been better put towards getting Requiem re-released now that Geneon’s U.S. arm went poof. I suspect it’ll show up as a FUNimation reissue somewhere along the line—but if this version doesn’t turn up here you won’t be missing much.

Hyakusuke's curiosity for a good story leads him to a criminal gangwho exploit other people's superstitions to mete out justice.

Both the animated series and the TV show share a vaguely similar plot, but the execution and especially the tone couldn’t be more dissimilar. Sometime late in Japan’s feudal era, a writer named Hyakusuke (Mitsuru Fukikoshi, looking gormless behind Coke-bottle-bottom spectacles) wanders the country compiling anecdotes about supernatural monsters of one kind or another into what he hopes will be his masterwork. Along the way he runs into three low-lifes—the monk Mataichi (Atsuro Watabe) and the grimy Chouji (Ren Osugi, who’s great even in stuff like this). The plot involves a man who allegedly died years ago and has since come back as a ghost to haunt others, although that may be all a setup to exploit the superstitions of others as part of a revenge plot. A hapless local doshin (Kenichi Endo, also great despite what the show puts him through) is one of the many locals that are sucked into the whole mess, along with a local girl, Ogin (Koike Eiko), who is more central to the goings-on than she realizes.

You can see how this echoes some of the themes in Ubume, especially since that story was set in the allegedly more rational world of post-WWII Japan. Here, superstition and distrust of things alien are doubly the norm, so what few scraps of fact people like Hyakusuke can pull together seem all the more hard-won. It’s a genuinely interesting premise, and that’s part of why I was annoyed when the show kept detouring into hammy acting and cheesy jokes (one running gag involves a character’s bladder capacity). The second half is more effective and even builds up a certain amount of real unease about everyone's motives and fates, but the things that do work are all too often undone by the things that don’t.

Inconsistencies of tone derail the good things in the show, of which there are a few.

I should note the animated version is a totally different take on the material. There, the three tramps are supernatural spirits, so the whole thing is more in line with a conventional ghost story than Kyogoku’s original conceit. More conventional, maybe, but more compelling for reasons entirely apart from how faithful it is (or isn’t) to the source material.

Tags: Japan Natsuhiko Kyogoku adaptation movies review