If you are looking for a straightforward J-horror film, then “The Doll House” is not for you even though there is the obligatory long-haired, white-costumed ghost and a suitably creepy Victoriana styled doll. Instead, “The Doll House” is one of many horror-themed pinku eiga (pink films or softcore pornography) films. Hashiguichi Takaaki also directed the pink version of the Kuchisake-onna (Slit-Mouthed Woman) urban legend, two years before Shiraishi Kōji’s J-horror classic “Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman” (2007). However, as an example of this particular sub-genre of pinku eiga, “The Doll House” seamlessly merges sex with horror, even if the emphasis is on the former rather than the later.
The Doll House is available from Pink Eiga
There is a minimal plot, which is not surprising given that this runs for just over an hour, in which a doctor, Arthur, and his ‘recent’ wife, Yoko, move into a new home which is haunted by a murderous onryō, whose spirit it seems is hiding in a creepy Victoriana doll (although the relationship between the two is not terribly clear). Cue steamy sex scenes which are only interrupted by the appearance of the ghost, and not Arthur’s remarkable stamina, and a bloody ending. A subplot about an accident which ruined Arthur’s career as an elite doctor and his marriage to the Chief’s daughter doesn’t really go anywhere. We only know that he is unemployed because of it, which of course is useful because then he can have lots of sex without the day to day drudgery getting in the way.
Given the tight budget and restricted shooting time that is an essential defining feature of pinku eiga – but without the political critique of the original cycle of films – Hashiguichi produces an entertaining and effective softcore horror film. Using a desaturated cinematic palate of green, browns and yellows for most of the film, and pillow or empty shots to heighten tension, “The Doll House” foregrounds Japanese cinematic eroticism without bringing the all too common misogyny with it. The emphasis is on Yoko’s desire as much as it is Arthur’s rather than codifying the conventions of male dominance in pinku eiga.
In addition, Hashiguichi doesn’t forget to utilize the generic features of J-horror including long dark hair clogging up bath water; the vengeful ghost appearing at the very edge of vision or as a reflection in the mirror; minimalist soundtrack and mainly still camera. In addition, repeated shots of the doll’s black sightless eyes watching the couple’s couplings add a suitably creepy feeling to the proceedings.
Significantly, only Yoko can see the ghost. And while she does attempt to enlist the help of the police in order to reveal the house’s bloody history, the ghost cannot be stopped from repeating the original trauma in which a mother killed and dismembered her daughter in the house. While Arthur might be the active instigator in terms of sex, he is the passive recipient of the ghost’s rage. The black beads that are the doll’s ‘eyes’ could be seen as a reference to the urban legend of the Okiku doll.
However, unlike the traditionally attired Okiku doll, the cursed doll here seems to be of Western origin or more appropriately interpreted as part of the Gothic Lolita trend and subculture which emerged in Japan in the late 1990s. In either case, the doll is, as always in horror films, darkly disturbing. Here her beaded eyes return the male gaze and foreground the disavowal of fragmentation that constitutes the male subject’s illusory agency and activity.
In conclusion, “The Doll House” is an effective example of the sex-horror film that has its genesis in 1960 political pinku eiga cinema and the subsequent mainstream studio film cycles including Nikkatsu’s roman porno. It has plenty of sex and enough moments of horror to satisfy fans of both genres.