“OUIJA JAPAN” is a female-led action/horror film that attempts to deliver “Battle Royale” for the digital age, with a supernatural twist.
OUIJA JAPAN just landing on digital (10/19/21). Read on to find out if you should Rent it, Stream it, or Skip it.
Ouija Japan, written and directed by Masaya Kato and starring a female-lead cast, is what you would get if someone crossed Battle Royale with a Ouija board and sprinkled a little bit of Unfriended and The Real Housewives franchise; it’s a bit messy, but entertaining and watchable, nonetheless.
Karen Fujimoto (Ariel Sekiya) is an American ex-pat living in Japan with her husband. Six months into the move and she is desperate to fit into the tight-knit community of Japanese housewives. She expresses her frustrations in learning Japanese to her friend and confidant, Satsuki Murakami (Miharu Chiba). Karen is constantly mocked and scolded by the ringleader of the wives, Akiyo Yoshihara (Eigi Kodaka), who chides her for being unable to understand Kanji, reminding Karen that she will get “no special treatment” simply because she does not speak the language.
While trying to chat in Japanese with the other wives, Karen accidentally ropes herself into a one-night camping trip where the ladies can unwind and relax from their duties. Satsuki invites herself along as Karen’s unofficial translator, and along with Mrs. Yoshihara and twelve other housewives (and one househusband), the group finds themselves in a quiet, remote village that prays to a Fox-deity.
The ladies try to get a few photos of the ancient shrine but are immediately accosted by a local man wielding a sickle.
Later that night, they decide to get revenge on him by playing the Japanese equivalent to a Ouija board — a game called Kokkuri-san — to summon the Fox-spirit and ask it questions about love, money, sex, and marriage.
Things immediately start going awry when one of the wives steals a coin from the shrine and Mrs. Yoshihara uses it as a divining tool (like a planchette on a Ouija board) for the spirit to answer questions.
The game comes to an abrupt end when Karen, Satsuki, and Yoshihara try to ask it a question and the board explodes, covering them in blood.
The ladies wake up the next day to discover a death among their own, as well as a spooky app utilizing a fox-faced mascot telling them how many people are remaining in the group. As the counter goes down, the stakes go up, and the timid and unsure Karen must come to terms with the fact that, in this game, it’s kill or be killed.
Ouija Japan starts out as a seemingly typical ghost story; a group of naive people angers a spirit by being completely disrespectful, taking some of its personal effects, and they end up haunted.
By the end, however, the movie takes a complete 360 turn.
Suddenly, it’s a group of middle-aged women armed with guns and swords trying to kill each other in the middle of the woods until there’s only one person left.
On paper, that should be a very awesome turn of events. And to a certain extent, it is.
The fight scenes are well-choreographed, the sight of normal-looking housewives bloodied and beaten and murdering each other violently with whatever they can get their hands on is great, and Kodaka’s performance as Yoshihara, the older ringleader of the wives turned cold-blooded killer is nothing short of iconic.
Satsuki Murakami’s transition from a semi-overbearing friend with an obvious crush on her bestie Karen into a gleeful sociopath getting her kicks from brutally torturing housewives is certainly worthy of mention, too.
Where the movie fumbles, however, is the implementation of the “cursed” app, which, unfortunately, is one of its major plot points.
Each of the women wakes up the night after the failed divination to find the application downloaded on their mobile devices. The app summons Kokkuri-san, the fox-god herself, who is depicted as a woman dressed in white, her face covered in a Kitsune mask.
The app not only has Kokkuri-san on speed dial but there is an option where players can bet on their “lifetimes” (whether or not the movie is referring to a person’s soul or their actual time remaining on this planet is not specified) to “upgrade” the game experience.
For example, Satsuki offers some of her life to unlock a camera feature that lets her view the locations of other players. A few of the women “unlock” higher-grade weapons, like swords and guns, to make the killing go by faster. In the words of Satsuki Murakami, “As people die, more features get unlocked in the app,” which is a real line spoken in this movie and not something ripped straight from a parody.
And the inclusion of the app wouldn’t be so terrible if it was fleshed out, but Ouija Japan spends zero time explaining how the app works, using it as a catchall to explain away the unexplainable. The app randomly decides to kill people, even though the entire point of the movie is for everyone else to kill each other.
Finally, there comes the inevitable plot twist in the final act of the film that makes even less sense than the initial explanation, leaving viewers to wonder why it was even included in a film that could have been so much better without it.