Stigmatized property is a real thing in this part of the world. Chinese people are a very superstitious bunch — they have a full month dedicated to placating the hungry spirits, after all — and the thought of living in a flat whose previous occupant met a gruesome demise doesn’t sit well with them. For many of us gweilos (“foreign devils”), the opportunity to have cheap rent is an appealing one and I know many people here who seek out such places in order to save money. To this day, I have yet to hear of one story where such a flat was haunted but there’s always a first time, I suppose.
Japanese comedian, Tanishi Matsubara/松原タニシ, has made a career out of living in stigmatized properties and he wrote the book, “Jiko Bukken Kaidan: Kowai Madori”, about his experiences in 2018. That book has now been adapted into a movie of the same name by noted Japanese horror filmmaker Hideo Nakata/中田秀夫 (SADAKO; THE RING films). In STIGMATIZED PROPERTIES, Taisa Nakai (Koji Seto/瀬戸康史, NO LONGER HUMAN) and Yamame Yamano (Kazuya Kamenashi/亀梨和也) are an unsuccessful comedy duo in Osaka who go under the not very catchy name of “The Two Jonathans”. Finally accepting that their fan club will never have more than one member consisting of Azusa Kosaka (Nao/奈緒), the pair splits up with Nakai going back to his day job as an assistant to a local television producer of those kitschy comedy talk shows that the Japanese love so much. Looking to be promoted to showrunner, Nakai pitches the idea of someone renting a stigmatized property and video recording his experiences there. The producer bites and Nakai hires Yamame to be that guy. As luck and movies would have it, Azusa just happens to get a job at the station as a makeup assistant at the same time and the trio are reunited. Yamame rents his first flat and very quickly he records an apparition, which gets aired on the station. Audiences love it and the producer tells him to find another haunted flat and live there. More apparitions and more success ensue but with each new flat sees the stakes increase with Nakai, Azusa and Yamame’s lives falling in danger.
This could have been a really effective horror-comedy but for some reason Nakata and Matsubara (who co-wrote the screenplay with Brazili Ann Yamada/ブラジリィー・アン・山田) made STIGMATIZED PROPERTIES a horror-comedy-melodrama-romance. The story careens between all four genres rather recklessly, making it difficult, if not impossible, for audiences to settle in for an entertaining ride. As in many Japanese horror flicks, our heroine, Azusa, does little more than giggle, fawn, shriek like an injured puppy or bug out her eyes depending on what the situation calls for. Kamenashi and Seto’s acting ranges are not much wider than that, with the characters often shouting at each other at the slightest provocation. Throw in blood-stained tatami mats and dishevelled ghouls hiding in closets and it’s nothing we haven’t seen a thousand times before with Japanese horror films.
STIGMATIZED PROPERTIES was released in Japan last August and is now rolling out to the rest of the world. Despite its lacklustre, the film has been a modest success both at home and abroad. Given the director’s penchant for sequels, the film’s ambiguous ending and the popularity of the video game of the same name, we can probably expect to see STIGMATIZED PROPERTIES 2 very soon.
STIGMATIZED PROPERTIES opens in our cinemas in Hong Kong on Thursday. Whether you should see this film will depend on how bored or desperate you are.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, March 19th, 8:30 am HK time!
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