Ninja Scroll, Perfect Blue, Paprika, and The Empire of Corpses
Horror Bulletin Week 157
This week, we’ll watch four Japanese anime films. These definitely aren’t for the kiddies! First, we’ll take a stab at “Ninja Scroll” from 1993, then we’ll lose ourselves in “Perfect Blue” from 1997. We’ll join the crazy parade with 2006’s “Paprika” and end it all with “The Empire of Corpses” from 2015. Hint: We liked them all!
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Ninja Scroll (1993)
Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Stars Koichi Yamadara, Emi Shinohara, Takeshi Aono
Run Time: 1 Hour, 34 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s an animated movie with great detailed work. It’s not a horror movie in the classic sense, but there are lots of demons and monsters to deal with. It’s an epic battle of good vs. evil mixing martial arts and swordplay with magic and superpowers.
A man, Jubei, tries to cross a bridge but is attacked by robbers. He was paid only 20 pieces of gold to retrieve a special sword given by the Shogun. He wipes them out.
Most of the townspeople from Shimoda village are dead from the plague. An evil force has come. The government blockades the village to prevent the spread.
Hanza reports to the Chamberlain about seeing strangers in that village last night. He is ordered to investigate. Kagero, the Chamberlain’s poison-taster, wants to go along. The men talk about Kagero’s destiny. Many of the men are killed by some kind of electricity-wielding demon and a man made of stone. The stone man tears Hanza’s arms off and drinks his blood.
The stone man takes Kagero prisoner. He starts to rape her. Jubei is there and interrupts. Jubei puts the man’s eye out, and he and Kagero escape. Lord Gemma orders the stone man and his partner not to pursue.
Kagero reports to the Chamberlain about what happened; twenty men died. Meanwhile, the stone man finds and beats up Jubei. Jubei slashes the stone man with his sword, and he shatters. An old man explains that he was one of the eight Devils of Kimon, but Jubei didn’t kill him alone.
Yurimaru is the stone man’s electrical partner, and he’s one of those demons as well. He reports to Lord Gemma that the stone man was killed.
Jubei runs into a tattooed woman. Her snake tattoos start to move, and the snakes attack him. She escapes, but the old man says he’s helped Jubei again. The eight devils are a ninja clan of the dark, and they want to overthrow the government. The old man wants to hire Jubei to fight them, but Jubei declines the offer. The old man, Dakuan, points out that the snake-woman poisoned Jubei and he’ll die by tomorrow without the antidote.
The snake woman reports her failure to Yurimaro. Dakuan explains to Jubei that Lord Gemma, a known traitor, is now the head of the Kimon clan. Shijima, a shadow demon, attacks Dakuan, but the old man escapes. Meanwhile, Jubei is attacked by the snake woman again, but Kagero intervenes; she’s immune to poisons. Turns out, Kagero will poison any man she sleeps with; that’s what actually killed the stone man earlier, not simply Jubei’s sword. Before the snake woman can be interrogated, she is electrocuted by Yurimaru’s hidden wire.
They soon discover that there was no plague; the villagers were either poisoned or executed. The demon-master of bees attacks next with his swarms. Kagero shoots poison rose petals at them while Jubei goes after the bee’s master. Jubei learns that Gemma has the secret of reincarnation; any part of his body can regenerate.
The demon-zombie-master sends the animated corpse of Hanza against them, and he explodes, nearly killing Kagero and Jubei. The blind swordmaster demon fights Jubei one on one. Jubei and Kagero talk about getting romantic, but they can’t because the touch of her skin is poisonous.
The demon’s plan seems to center on stealing some cargo from a ship that wrecked near the “infected” village a few days ago. Dakuan explains that the cargo is gold produced from the secret mine. The gold was headed to the Shogun of the Dark, and he needs it to topple the government and plunge the country into a civil war. The shadow demon attacks, turning into dozens of hologram-versions of himself. Kagero sends a message to the Chamberlain about the gold shipments. Then she confronts Dakuan about the antidote to Jubei’s poison.
The shadow demon kidnaps Kagero and Jubei goes after her. Unfortunately, he’s getting weaker from the poison and can’t fight. The old man says that if Jubei makes love to Kagero, that her poison will kill his poison, and that’s the only cure for him. He declines her offer out of respect for her.
Jubei plans to sink the ship full of gold while Dakuan makes a distraction. Just then, the Chamberlain and his men arrive. The real Chamberlain has been dead for two days; this is Lord Gemma in disguise; he stabs Kagero in the back and Jubei watches. Jubei makes a lot of their blood splatter everywhere.
Yurimaru begs Gemma to be allowed to kill Jubei. He nearly kills Jubei, but he’s betrayed and killed by the zombie-controlling-demon.
Kageru dies, but Jubei kisses her anyway. Now, Jubei’s angry and has an incentive to finally do something. He goes out to the ship and climbs aboard. Meanwhile, Gemma turns against the Shogun of the Dark; he wants the gold for himself and the demons of Kimon.
Down in the cargo hold, Dakuan has to fight the demon zombie-controller. She explodes dramatically and damages the ship in the process. As the ship burns, Jubei finally meets Gemma, and they do battle. Jubei was the one who decapitated Gemma the first time. Jubei cuts off Gemma’s arm, but Gemma just re-attaches it. Gemma, who can never die, gets encased in molten gold… forever.
Dakuen explains that kissing Kagero cured Jubei of the poison, and he’s free to go now. Jubei walks off into the fog…
There’s lots of demons and monsters and epic ninja fighting. There’s stuff about politics and gold mines and reincarnation and curses. There’s a lot of backstory going on behind all the ninja fighting. The team of evil demons could match any superhero group with their distinct styles and powers although they do die awfully easily.
Perfect Blue (1997)
Directed by Satoshi Kon
Written by Sadayuki Murai, Yoshikazu Takeuchi, Rika Takahashi
Stars Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Shinpachi Tsuji
Run Time: 1 Hour, 21 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s an anime that is more of a psychological thriller this time around. As we follow Mima, we watch her struggle with what might be encroaching madness or might be dark forces working against her. It’s got murder and mayhem, and a gripping story that keeps pulling you along eager to see how it ends.
We see the filming of an episode of “Powertrons,” a generic version of the Power Rangers. Fans talk about Mima, and how this is supposed to be one of her final shows. She’s a retiring pop singer. We also see a weird-looking guy with strange eyes attending her last show. The guy gets beat up by a fan.
After the final show, we next see her buying groceries in the store like a normal person would. The manager wants her to do more acting instead of all the singing. She goes home and reads fan mail; one of them says he can see into her room. She gets phone calls with deep breathing. She gets a fax calling her a TRAITOR.
Mima goes to the shooting of her new acting job. She only has five words. Her manager wants them to write more lines for her. She’s super nervous, but before she can say the lines, someone shoots and injures her manager. No, Mima’s fanmail that he was holding exploded.
Mima thinks it was lucky that she hadn’t been reading her own fan mail. A friend shows Mima how to use a computer and the Internet, which was a new thing at the time. She looks at a fan site devoted to her; someone knows entirely too much about her personal details, even what kinds of groceries she buys. Someone is clearly stalking her. Before long, knowing that her every move is being watched starts to weigh on her.
She sees a newspaper article about how one of the guys who disrupted her final concert had been killed in a hit and run. She then notices that weird-looking guy watching her from outside.
The writer of the show she’s on wants to write a rape scene for her character, and she knows she has to do it. Rumi, her manager’s assistant, takes it badly, but Mima does a good job with the scene. She goes home and has a breakdown. Then she talks to her alter-ego in the mirror. She reads the blog that was supposedly written by her. The alter-ego says the real Mima is writing that stuff. The real Mima who wants to go back to singing. She then watches her alter-ego fly out the window and down the street.
The writer for the show is murdered in his parking garage one night. Between that and the letter bomb, Mima thinks someone may be after her, but her manager plays it all down.
Mima does a sexy photoshoot next. The alter-ego wants to go back to singing, but her two friends from her former music group are doing very well without her, so she probably can’t go back. Meanwhile, the crazy-looking guy continues to write his blog. He imagines Mima’s alter-ego is there with him as well.
She divulges what she’s been seeing to Rumi, but she doesn’t know what’s real and what's not anymore. The script of the show she is on starts getting suspiciously like the confusion that is Mima’s real life.
She dreams that she murders the porn photographer, and the next morning she hears that the man really was murdered. She finds a bloody shirt in her closet. Did she do that? The parallels in the TV show get really, really, close to what’s going on in Mima’s mind. What is real?
She encounters the weird guy in the basement of the studio. He pulls a knife on her and says he’s protecting the real Mima. He says the real Mima emails him every day and says she is in the way. He ties her up and gets ready to rape her until she puts a hammer through his skull. No, that was all a scene. Wasn’t it? She shows Rumi where it happened, but the body is gone.
We see that her agent, who wanted to get her into more adult films, is dead alongside the stalker. Then we see Rumi dressed as Mima. Turns out Rumi has been killing people; she thinks she’s Mima. She was the one emailing the stalker and putting him up to things. Rumi (who is also the alter-ego) chases Mima across the rooftops. Rumi falls on broken glass and then they both get hit by a truck.
Mima goes to see Rumi at the mental hospital. Mima’s a big star now, and she’s feeling much better.
“I’ve heard a lot about the Internet. It’s getting really popular now.” Could there be anything more 1997 than a line like that? Maybe seeing a Macintosh Performa in her room.
This was intended to be a live action film, but ended up as an anime when then financers backed out. The story is pretty deep for an anime, so the “real” writing shows through. Mima is clearly having some kind of schizophrenic break, but she sees it as a second version of herself.
It gets really confusing in the middle, as it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s a mental break. By the end, it actually all makes sense, which I found surprising. Yes, I definitely liked it.
Short Film: Close Your Eyes (2022)
Directed by Andy Chen
Written by Andy Chen
Stars Vinny Balbo, David Illy Bennett, Maddi Estrada
Run Time: 3:44
Martin seems to be sleepwalking. Vincent approaches him to help, but he’s not as asleep as he seems. “Listen,” Martin says. “You have to knock. Close your eyes.” Finally, Vincent hears the knock…
It’s short, but it looks good, has good lighting and pacing, and is very creepy. It’s amazing how suspenseful three minutes can be.
Directed by Satoshi Kon
Written by Yasutaka Tsutsui, Seishi Minakami, Satoshi Kon
Stars Megumi Hayashibara, Tōru Furuya, Kōichi Yamadera
Run Time: 1 Hour, 30 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
What happens when your dreams can be shared with others? Dreams can be merged? Dreams cross over into the real world? One crazy trip of an entertaining movie. This was originally planned to be live action. Going animated allowed them to give us imagery that would have been challenging and expensive to pull off. Some of the elements are nightmarish and horrifying, but it’s more of a science fiction/mystery/thriller than actual horror.
We begin at a circus. A man talks into a microphone, he’s looking for a known traitor. Suddenly, he finds himself in a cage in the center of the show. People run to grab him, but he sinks through the floor. Suddenly, he finds himself in a psychedelic series of images and situations that he doesn’t understand. He wakes up in bed and next to him is the girl from his dream.
She explains that they are both wearing a device called the DC Mini, which allows them to share dreams. She’s recorded a video of his dreams on her computer; she says that “when the device is finished, you’ll be able to enter your dreams when wide awake.” She also tells him that most dreams are somewhat movielike. Detective Konokawa says that he is working on a murder case, and he makes another appointment with Paprika, the dream therapist. Credits roll.
The DC Mini was stolen, as well as certain analytical papers. It must have been an inside job. The creator explains that he hadn’t set up the security routines in the device, so anyone could just use it. The chairman of the company thinks the whole project is immoral; you could control people with the device, and now terrorists have stolen it. He suspects Paprika stole it. The chief scientist, Shima, suddenly starts talking in “word salad” mode and jumps out the window. They examine his weird dreams as he lay in the hospital.
Chiba takes over the investigation. She explains that one of the chief’s patient’s dreams wound up in his subconscious; it’s not a one-way connection. They figure out the assistant, Himuro, was the thief and go to his apartment. She crosses over into a dream-vision and follows Himuro through an amusement park and nearly jumps off the balcony of the high-rise in the real world; illusions can be fatal. Chiba had been connected to the DC Mini, so she’s at risk.
Chief Shima wakes up. The chairman wants to cancel the project, but can’t do it while the chief is in the hospital - the board requires all members to be present.
Detective Konokawa gets on the computer and finds himself talking to Paprika in a dream restaurant. He doesn’t like movies; it’s like a phobia to him.
Chiba takes Tokita, the DC Mini’s creator, to an abandoned theme park; it’s the one the dream-version was based upon. They find Himuro’s body; he had a DC Mini embedded in his head. The DC Mini may have been acting on its own; there are two more of them floating around out there somewhere. Chiba doesn’t believe Himuro would have done all this, and that he may have been a victim too.
The Chief explains to Konokawa that Chiba is Paprika– sort of. They are sort of dreamworld alter-egos. Konokawa has a recurring dream where he ends up shooting someone who turns out to be himself.
Tokita connects to Himuro in the dreamworld. He gets stuck in there. Soon, Konokawa and Paprika find that all the dreams are starting to merge inside Konokawa’s subconscious. Paprika/Chiba goes in after them to the dream parade. She verifies that Himuro isn’t there; he didn’t start all this. She sees the Chairman inside and believes he is behind all this and Osanai is involved as well. Paprika does battle with the dream-monsters.
Osanai brags that he can go into dreams at any time. He’s been causing all this at the behest of the Chairman. They believe they are protecting the sanctity of mankind's dreams.
Konokawa remembers a movie he made when he was seventeen. He made it with a friend who got sick and died. He watches the goings-on with Paprika and Osanai on the movie screen. Osanai splits open Paprika and peels from Chiba inside. The chairman intercedes and argues with Osanai and Konokawa tries to break through the movie screen. He and Osanai have to fight through all of Konokawa’s dreams. This time, he shoots Osanai in the back, and his “movie” ends.
Meanwhile, the Chairman admits that he wants the use of Osanai’s body; the two will merge at some point, and he’ll be able to walk again.
Konokawa is stuck in everyone’s dream; it’s spreading to other people. Maybe. Dreams and reality are merging together. Chiba and Paprika are side-by-side working together somehow as the giant Himuro doll attacks. Paprika and the Chairman have an epic, apocalyptic fight. Then things get weird…
The visuals here are– well, they aren’t going to be doing a live-action version of this anytime soon. OK, actually, “Inception” was inspired by this film so there’s that. Still, it’s very surreal and, well, dreamlike.
After a while, even the characters don’t know what is and isn’t real. It’s definitely a cool movie with some outstanding visuals.
The Empire of Corpses (2015)
Directed by Ryôtarô Makihara
Written by Project Ito, To Enjo, Koji Yamamoto
Stars Clint Bickham, Anthony Bowling, Duncan Brannon
Run Time: 2 Hours
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
This animated movie really crams a lot into the two hours. It’s a steampunk alternate reality where Frankenstein’s science was not only real but comes into widespread use to animate the dead on a mass scale. Add to that adventure, politics, and loads of action and this movie is quite a ride.
1878 London, John Watson, our narrator, says that he needs more corpses. He has discovered the corpses weigh 21 grams less than they do while alive. This is the weight of the soul’s essence. By injecting an artificial soul essence, he can resurrect the dead. The first time this was done was by Dr. Frankenstein. Frankenstein’s monster had a soul and was unique, but the newer resurrected are only pale imitations of life, with artificial souls. Frankenstein’s monster is now called The One, but he has vanished. Our narrator wants to replace original souls into new bodies to really bring back the dead. His version of the undead are pretty mindless, able to follow instructions but that’s about all.
Corpse technologies are critical to everything. Animated corpses make perfect soldiers; if they die, no one cares. Artificial souls can be created on punch cards, called “Necroware.” The undead make good servants, housekeepers, wait staff, and lots of other things. Undead workers are everywhere, and Necroware engineers are making improvements every day. Credits roll.
The government tracks Watson down and makes him an offer he can’t refuse; come work for the Queen. He and his personal zombie, Friday, go to Bombay. Former President Grant is there, showing off Civil War technologies, but suddenly there is an attack. There are Russian controlled exploding corpses going off everywhere. Watson and Burnaby eventually evade the attackers.
Karamazov has taken his undead and captured Afghanistan. “M” instructs Watson to go there and stop Karamazov and retrieve Dr. Frankenstein’s notes. Nicolae will be accompanying them. Nicolae’s job is to bring back Karamazov, but he says he doesn’t care about the Frankenstein Memorandum. They watch a battle between undead armies; it’s really just a numbers game. Karamazov’s zombies are smarter and better, with murderous intent, than those of the British. Suddenly, a woman with a flamethrower cannon wipes out most of the army. That night, they reanimate one of the captured enemies. The girl Hadaly introduces herself, she’s President Grant’s secretary.
Eventually, they arrive in Afghanistan. They all expect that with Karamazov’s new kind of souls, the reappearance of The One can’t be too far off. They meet Karamazov. Karamazov uses the new corpse tech on Nikolai, and Watson watches. Karamazov has installed an artificial soul into a living being, which isn’t allowed. When Nikolai kills Karamazov, he tells Watson where to find the Memorandum– and to destroy it.
In Japan, they learn about the Osata Chemical company, which is also developing new corpse types. The group knowingly walks into a trap; they aren’t the only ones after the Memorandum. The Memorandum is protected by giant reanimated samurai soldiers. Friday downloads the text of the Memorandum as the others battle corpses. Friday has convulsions, but Burnaby insists on destroying the book. Before anyone does anything, the room explodes.
The One, Frankenstein’s Monster, arrives and talks to Watson. He’s a hundred years old now. He takes the Memorandum and leaves. He wakes up aboard the USS Richmond, heading for the United States, Hadaly is caring for him since he’s got cholera. Friday is still with them, but he’s not the same.
President Grant wants Burnaby and Watson to stop The One, who is disrupting the dead all over the world. Meanwhile, The One uses the Paul Bunyan, a giant “analytical engine” to hack the necroware and transmit to all the world’s dead. He is also searching for something. All the undead, including Friday, turn on the living. Hadaly can control them somewhat, and she helps them to escape, but it’s revealed that she’s a robot. In the middle of all this, Friday signals that he’s at least somewhat conscious now.
M finally tracks down The One, and they talk. M wants to use the Memorandum to create a new world, and they take The One into custody in the Tower of London, where the Charles Babbage analytical engine is housed.
Hadaly shows Watson to the Nautilus, a giant submarine controlled by her father, Thomas Edison.
M takes The One to the tower and the huge supercomputer, which is all connected to Victor Frankenstein’s living brain. The Charles Babbage engine comes to life and beams out a signal to all the undead, everywhere. Once all the humans are undead, there will be no more unhappiness or suffering, ever. The good guys hook Friday into the computer, and shoots M.
The One breaks loose and kills M for good. He takes Friday and Hadaly and puts them in his machines. He sucks all the artificial souls out of all the undead. He rebuilds the soul of his lost bride and places it inside Hadaly. He then places his own soul inside Friday.
Burnaby shoots the machine, which causes things to go haywire. They seal The One’s consciousness into the machine.
Later, Watson keeps working with Friday to get his soul back. The ending is ambiguous.
There’s so much going on here, the world is very deep and well-considered. If this was a book series, I’d read it. Apart from the omnipresent corpse technology, there’s a lot of steampunk technology in use throughout the film, some of which is explained and some isn’t.
If The One was Frankenstein’s Monster from a hundred years ago, who was that big guy Burnaby was fighting in the end? He looked like the Karloff-version of the monster, but there was never any explanation that I caught.
Again, there are a huge number of ideas, concepts, and philosophies thrown in here that it all feels really rushed. If this had been five hours long, I doubt they could have done justice to all of it.
It’s really good. Dense, but good. It’s probably worth watching more than once to pick up all the details.
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Get ready for next week, where we’ll be watching four more full-lengths and a fun short film!
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