October 31, 2007
The best campfire stories are the ones that are meta—you know, the characters in the story talk about some folk legend and then end up living (but probably not living through) the tale themselves. So it is in Kakurenbo (2005), in which children play a late-night game of hide and seek in an old part of the city, specifically to test a legend about kids doing just that.
Wearing their fox masks—a requirement for the game—the kids quickly discover that the rumours of demons pursuing the players are true. Much like in Wicked City, the chase take place in an urban landscape, through buildings that appear to have all been abandoned. Unlike Wicked City, these demons don't wear suits. In fact, they're distinctly old-fashioned creatures out of Japanese folklore, some with accouterments straight out of previous centuries. As the children fall one by one, you get the feeling that this game has been played for a long, long time—so long that the children and the modern buildings they run through are the interlopers, not the monsters.
Kakurenbo is entirely 3D CGI, though all the characters are cel-shaded and the backgrounds are either painted or heavily textured. At the beginning of the movie, it's recommended that you watch it in the dark. This is true for the story's mood—all monster movies should be watched in the dark—but also aesthetically. Kakurenbo's colour palette is extremely dark, and its rich look only really becomes apparent when the lights are out.
As in many good ghost stories, the characters themselves are ciphers. We don't really know much about the eight kids—one is blustery, two are dangerous as hell, one is looking for his sister who disappeared during an earlier game—and we really don't need to. (The fox masks, which conveniently eliminate any need for facial animation, also help to keep us from getting to know the characters.) Even so, we're given just enough so that the end—which, like other meta ghost stories, serves to confirm the story the characters were relating—still sends a shiver down the spine.
Where to find it: On DVD at Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, or Right Stuf