One of the undisputed masters of the J-splatter scene, Noboru Iguchi has either worked on or for most of the modern classics of the genre, in a career dating back to the mid-1990s. Now presenting his new effort, a loose follow-up of sorts to his earlier film ‘Devotion to Cinema,’ this is being screened at Japan Film Fest Hamburg.
Living with an abusive father, young Rika (Anna Yanagi) finds herself struggling to keep from committing suicide as she continually has visions of strange ghosts around her. Eventually she meets up with Keiko (Sumire Ueno) and Akari (Minori Mikado) who are both ghosts themselves, and let her know that they have revealed themselves to her in order to help them get revenge on their killers who are still free living on Earth. When she finds out her friend Yoshie (Yuni Hong) is also a ghost and intends on seeking revenge, Rika helps the ghost team hone in their special powers in order to fulfill their mission and crossover into the afterlife.
‘Ghost Squad’ ended up with a lot to like about it. One of the best aspects of this one is the absolutely crazy and goofy storyline. The main concept from writer/director Iguchi that focuses on the ghosts interacting with Rika in order to generate the energy required to take out their former killers, serves as a rather bizarre situation that is rather well handled. The film comes about due to each of the ghosts needing specific requirements from Rika in order to accomplish their revenge motive, including the need for her to be near-death in order for them to interact in the physical world and to engage in lesbian make-out sessions to draw enough energy that allows for some rather inventive sequences here. These rules and stipulations are placed upon us from the beginning, which helps to ease the goofiness of the situation rather easily. As well, they prepare us to get used to the later introduction of the ghost hierarchy for allowing them to cross into the afterlife instead of roaming Earth. This is far more involved than expected and really generates some intriguing plot points.
As well, this fun setup is utilized to apply some rather bonkers and bizarre ghost action into the film. This is apparent from the very beginning where Keiko and Akari appear to save Rika in the restaurant and torment her abusive boyfriend in a slew of slapstick gags. The combination of silly slapstick leading into graphic bloodshed is repeated for the majority of their revenge sequences throughout the film, including the ambush on the first attacker in his apartment or the revenge on the bar owner. By having Keiko sprout a meat-hammer on her hands and beat the hoodlum senseless in the privates or Yoshie producing a laser gun on her arm to blow up the bad guys, it becomes obvious this one aims for the balls-out insanity. When Akari joins in with a dog for a hand to begin biting and slashing up the rest of the crew using it, there’s a full-on devotion to the silly and bizarre that the silliness present gives the scene a wholly enjoyable charm. The finale in their hideout, when the thugs return to even out the score only to meet the final revenge by the ghosts through their secret shame weapon, gives the film a truly wacky and silly action setpiece that ends this on a high note.
Still, there are a few flaws here. The main issue is the absolutely overlong running time of ‘Ghost Squad,’ managing to go on way longer than it really should. To go for nearly an hour and forty-five minutes is completely unnecessary, since there’s not much in the way of plot. Most of this is due to the heavily overdone use of sappy, saccharine montages showing Keiko, Akarai and Yoshie remembering their past lives and focusing on their individual hang-ups about dying. These are usually inserted right in the middle of their revenge plots at the most crucial moments just before the main strike occurs, lessening the tension by switching out the bizarre antics and silly action for dramatic rants about dying and what it means to still live out your destiny. Not only does this ruin the moment but it also readily enhances the running time, especially once the same thematic point is made for each girl repeatedly in the film. The goofiness and cheesy effects that are featured here might not be for everyone as well and stands as another factor in this one.
With some solid wacky ghost action and a lot more emotion than expected for something like this, ‘Ghost Squad’ has plenty to like even though it’s way too long for its own good. This is still a solid outing for fans of the director’s previous works or aficionados of cheesy genre efforts, while those turned off by the bizarre side of the genre should heed caution.