Eye For Film >> Movies >> Rokuroku: The Promise Of The Witch (2017) Film Review
Rokuroku: The Promise Of The Witch
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
In July 2017, a giant salamander crawled out of the Kamogawa river in Japan and took a stroll along the bank. Did people call animal protection groups and ask for advice? At least one did, but others called the police and said "Help! It's a monster."
There's a cultural expectation of monsters in Japan that is found in few other parts of the world. Every culture clings to some legacy of its pre-scientific past - in the UK, for instance, people are willing to subscribe all sorts of things to the spirits of the dead if they can't explain them rationally. In Japan, monsters - giant ones, mutated ones, hybrids of human and animal, and altogether stranger things - belong to a mythology that's still close to the surface, hence the kaiju films that have become popular all around the world. They're found throughout the country's cinematic history, even in the work of masters like Akira Kurosawa, sometimes used literally and sometimes symbolically, with varying degrees of seriousness. Rokuroku: Promise Of The Witch makes them its central subject and displays them in all their glory, no holds barred.
Izumi and Mika were friends at high school. When Izumi, who leads a quiet life working in an office and helping her mother care for her grandfather, gets a call from Mika out of the blue, she's delighted by the opportunity to get together again. But something strange is going on in their local area. Mischievous yokai, a sinister ageing nekogirl, a predatory rooftop spirit and even a giant sea monster with human hands for teeth menace its inhabitants. There's a reason why Izumi's grandfather protests that something is watching him from the garden and carries a jangling stick with him wherever he goes. To resolve the mystery and face a danger they cannot escape, the two young women must remember an incident in their childhood that both have spent years trying to forget.
For most of its length, RokuRoku feels like an anthology film, a series of bizarre incidents in which puny humans come up against supernatural foes, but if you pay attention you'll begin to notice that all these tales are linked - perhaps all a product of the same malign presence, which has visited this place before. The strange logic connecting them invites viewers to more willingly suspend disbelief when confronted not only with unlikely beings but with Yudai Yamaguchi's distinctly outré style of filmmaking. The melodrama of the central characters' behaviour is typical of Japanese genre films, but when it comes to the female spirits, Yamaguchi turns everything up a notch. His use of colour undergoes a similar shift, with lurid reds and pinks infiltrating a landscape otherwise composed mostly of cools greys, greens and browns.
The monsters here have motives that, for the most part, are hard to fathom, though less confusing if you know a little about the legends associated with different types. Some myths are shared across cultures - witches often want the same thing. Spirits are capricious and often seem to treat the human characters as toys, but there's also a suggestion that at least some of those humans are getting what they deserve. Various rules emerge that might aid survival, but overall the moral seems to be don't be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Wayward, manic and gleefully disorientating, Rokuroku will delight fans of Japan's more hyperbolic output and leave other viewers wondering what the hell just happened.Reviewed on: 23 Jul 2018