The Halloween month is here, and there’s no better way to get into the spooky mood than to watch some of Koji Shiraishi’s found footage works.
Senritsu Kaiki File Kowasugi File 01: Operation Capture the Slit-Mouthed Woman is a horror found footage film directed by Koji Shiraishi, known for cult classics such as Noroi: The Curse and Ura Horror.
The movie revolves around a documentary crew who wants to make it big by capturing supernatural activity on camera, mostly so they can profit off of DVD sales. Their work has them following every supernatural lead they can find inside of Japan, with the first one being about the Kuchisake-Onna, also known as the Slith-Mouthed Woman.
Senritsu Kaiki File Kowasugi File 01: Operation Capture the Slit-Mouthed Woman (2012)
Director: Koji Shiraishi
Release Date: July 4, 2012
The Senritsu Kaiki series feels like a spiritual successor to Shiraishi’s earlier works, in specific Ura Horror. Ura Horror is compilation of supposedly illegal horror tapes, which range from supernatural happenings to unexplained deaths.
The movies have a somewhat weird presentation choice, mostly feeling like they have been edited specifically to be shown at a Japanese variety program. Every scare is accompanied by a zoom, replay, and brightening of the image, as well as a slow motion effect.
This unique quirk of the movies will probably be a deal-breaker for most. At some points it’s genuinely chilling to see a replay of something you didn’t notice before, but at other times it feels massively redundant when the scare was the main point of the scene.
Senritsu Kaiki File Kowasugi File 01 starts with a chilling video of two Japanese men watching an unnaturally tall woman in a long trench coat mumbling to herself in broad daylight. Before they get the chance to approach her, she immediately takes off running after them at an incredible speed.
The men manage to run away from her, by taking as many turns as they can in the cramped streets of their small town, but it’s quite clear that they are left shaken by the situation. Even worse, the woman now knows where they live, and knocks on their door every night.
The men send their footage to Jin Kudo and Miho Ichikawa, two amateur investigators/filmmakers who immediately get on the case. The dynamic between the hothead Kudo and the deadpan Ichikawa is pretty interesting, but they don’t get a lot of characterization in this first movie. We get some slight hints at Kudo’s backstory, but nothing is explicitly said.
The first step in Kudo and Ichikawa’s plan is to see if any of them could actually run as fast as the woman does in the video, to rule out the possibility of it simply being a person in disguise. Their findings are inconclusive, mostly because both them and the two men who recorded the video are not in great shape, so they decide to investigate further.
The next step in their plan is to interview locals in the area in which the video was filmed, and it produces quite a few results. People in the are are aware of the woman and have seen her acting weirdly in public, but write her off as crazy and homeless, due to her supposedly having a rotten smell
One of the people that the duo interviews claims that they received a “good luck charm” from the woman, which is made entirely out of her hair. The man reveals that she frequently gifts these good luck charms to people around the town, and everyone who receives one is compelled to wear it.
The movie is really good at toying with the viewer, constantly leaving you to wonder if the woman is actually a supernatural entity or simply someone dealing with mental issues. We are constantly provided conflicting information, while the movie continues to reveal more bits of the initial footage, showing glimpses of the woman that are hard to catch on your first view.
Kudo and Ichikawa decide to question a local priestess about the hair, and this is where the movie puts its own spin in the Kuchisake-Onna mythos. It’s revealed that the woman, possibly named Taki Misako, had been shunned from her village due to a forbidden romance with a man who belonged to the main sorcerer family.
She was cursed and forced to leave the village, and enraged by this situation she also cursed her lover. It’s believed that this ordeal led her to come back as a vengeful spirit, as the curses end up killing both her and the man she fell in love with. It’s implied that this gave her a disdain for men, which is a similarity that this movie’s version shares with the original Kuchisake-Onna legend.
The priestess attempts a seance to locate the Kuchisake-Onna, but is instead surprised by her appearance inside of the house. The priestess is insulted by the idea that her brother could have been cursed, as she believes to be of a higher caste as part of the village’s main family, but her ego crumbles when its shown that the vengeful spirit is quite powerful.
The priestess kicks Kudo and Ichikawa from her home, and warns them that the “good luck charms” are in fact a curse of certain death, which cannot be dispelled. The duo tries to warn the man they previously interviewed about the curse, but arrive just in time to watch him get run over by a car, dying instantly while the cursed spirit watches nearby.
Lacking any leads and hoping to finally get some concrete footage, Kudo and Ichikawa place cameras around the house of the two men who were originally pursued by the Kuchisake-Onna. She shows up in the middle of the night, and in an attempt to get her to talk, one of the men, Yano, claims to be her deceased lover.
The woman believes him, and reveals that she died while pregnant with his child, which is why she returned as a vengeful spirit. The camera crew has a confrontation with her outside of the apartment where they attempt to run her over, but she manages to run away.
The scene where the Kuchisake-Onna is trying to get inside the men’s apartment is harrowing. Not only because it’s the first time we hear her speaking, but also because she also claws at the door and keeps banging against it, desperate to be reunited with her lover.
Yano is never seen again after this, so his friend contacts the filming crew in the hopes of locating him. The crew enters his home and encounters a massive version of the cursed charm, and as they are leaving the apartment, the camera catches one last glimpse of the Kuchisake-Onna, hiding in a dark room nearby.
This time she looks completely monstrous, and for the first time in the movie the replay actually manages to be terrifying, as the screen brightens to reveal more of her nonsensical anatomy.
Senritsu Kaiki File Kowasugi File 01 is a mixed movie for me. It builds an amazing amount of tension and atmosphere, being extremely effective at keeping the viewer uneasy, but at the same time, the movie insists on replaying almost every scary scene until it stops being scary.
There’s also the fact that the movie just abruptly ends. The movie takes joy in replaying its scares, but has no qualms about finishing abruptly at the first sign of plot development. Granted, the ending is probably the best part of the movie, but it still feels largely inconclusive, as it both reaches its peak and concludes instantly.
It’s easy to understand what the format is, as the movie is essentially framed from the perspective of a DVD being sold by the characters in-universe, but that doesn’t make up for the effort that the movie puts when it comes to neutering its best moments.
The last replay is genuinely uncomfortable to look at, as we see the camera crew inches away from this monstrous being that is silently stalking them from the shadows while they are completely unaware, but at the same time it’s hard to justify all of the times this gimmick didn’t land.
It’s commendable that the movie spends most of its runtime in daylight, being confident that it doesn’t need nighttime scenes to be scary, and the amateur camera work also really helps when it comes to selling it as a cheap documentary production.
The movie can be quite effective, even if a bit uneventful, and manages to show that Koji Shiraishi can extract an entertaining experience from the smallest budget. There are some caveats to Senritsu Kaiki File Kowasugi File 01, but it is an overall enjoyable and spooky experience, despite not being the best that the director can do.