BiFan 2023 Review: SANA, Takashi Shimizu Returns with J-Pop-Infused J-Horror

Contributor; Seoul, South Korea (@pierceconran)
BiFan 2023 Review: SANA, Takashi Shimizu Returns with J-Pop-Infused J-Horror

Takashi Shimizu, the mastermind behind the Ju-On series (he also directed the first two American remakes) is back in familiar J-horror surroundings with his second film of 2023.

Sana, serving as the closing film of this year's Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan), stars all seven members of the J-pop outfit Generations from Exile Tribe, playing themselves. Yet sometimes familiarity breeds contempt and it will be up to individual viewers to decide whether Shimizu's latest is a fun and confidently-staged trip down memory lane with a J-pop twist or an old-fashioned rehash of tired tropes.

Those tried tropes begin with the film's concept. A pop star unearths a 30-year-old cassette tape at a radio station marked 'Everyone's Song.' By the time he returns to the practice room with his colleagues, he begins to act very strangely and then suddenly disappears.

The band's manager hires a grizzled old private eye to track him down, giving him a somewhat arbitrary three days to do so, failing which he won't get a cent for his troubles. Soon after, everyone begins hearing a creepily hummed song or seeing a ghost in a girl's school uniform.

In The Ring, another J-horror super franchise, victims had to actually listen to the video tape at the heart of the story before plunging into a paranoid hellscape, seven days after which they would die. In Sana, no one actually listens to the tape until about halfway through the film, but the hauntings start anyway, affecting everyone all at once, to varying degrees.

Beyond that, what transpires is standard issue, with some characters delving into the mystery behind the humming they can't get out of their heads, while others succumb to it. The voice belongs to someone with a dark story and while her motivations are refreshingly different from most grudge spirits on the screen, a certain amount of logic has been sacrificed for that novelty.

This is a mainstream Japanese horror film, so the most important thing is seldom the story, it's the scares. So how scary is Sana? Alas, despite being crisply filmed, this a far cry from J-horror's horrific highs.

While Sana isn't as scary as it should be and would have benefitted from a more carefully plotted reveal, Shimizu's latest still bears the signs of a confident horror maestro at work. The film draws us in quickly and doesn't lose steam in its second half, like so many other grudge spirit films.

This makes it a smoother experience than previous pop world-horror confections, like the K-pop-themed White: Melody of Death, but is smooth the adjective you want describing a horror film?

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BiFanClosing FilmGenerations from Exile TribeJ-HorrorJ-popJu-OnTakashi ShimizuThe GrudgeThe Ring

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