Director: Takashi Shimizu
Cast: Hideaki Takizawa, Daiki Arioka, Mugi Kadowaki, Hiroyuki Onoue, Aoba Kawai, Momoko Tanabe, Haruto Nakano, Hyunri, Takashi Yamanaka, Ken Yoshizawa, Naomi Nishida
Runtime: 1 hr 51 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Disturbing Scenes)
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Opening Day: 14 September 2017
Synopsis: A suburban town is shaken by a series of mysterious child disappearances, and suspicious adult deaths. A rumor begins to spread on the internet that any adult who suddenly encounters a “returned child” will die mysteriously three days later. Local newspaper reporter Shunya Ezaki refuses to believe that children are killing adults, and begins to investigate the truth behind the strange deaths. Meanwhile, Shunyaʼs girlfriend and nursery school worker Naomi Harada waits for the mother of a young boy to come and pick him up, but day turns to night and there is still no sign of her, leaving Naomi with no choice but to look after the boy herself. Before long, they are stalked by a shadowy figure, the “Kodomo Tsukai” Eventually, the boy goes missing. This turns out to be only the opening act of a horrific ordeal for Shunya and Naomi, whose fates are sealed when they cross paths with the Kodomo Tsukai.
Children, can be creepy. With their beguiling ways and cherubic faces, they intensify horror when gurgle becomes growl and smile becomes sneer. This formula has kept classics going - think Children of the Corn or The Omen - and in Japan, director Takashi Shimiau has been terrifying audience with Toshio, the mewling boy from Juon.
With Kodomo Tsukai, Shimiau attempts to continues his reign, twisting the already-dark Pipe Piper folklore into a tale of vengeance and abuse.
Reporter Shunya Ezaki (Daiki Arioka) is trying to investigate a spate of adult deaths that are linked with temporary disappearances. An urban folklore soon spreads, along with a song that the children who reappear, chant to. Within the song, a “Tommy” name is dropped and the mystery begins.
Ezaki’s girlfriend Naomi Harada (Mugi Kadowaki), meanwhile, is having her own bizarre encounters. At the nursery she is working at, a child’s mother goes missing. She decides to let the child Ren take refuge in her apartment for one night, to which he quickly bonds to her as a surrogate.
When authorities find the dead mother and take Ren away, Naomi soon sees vision of a black man, the Kodomo Tsukai (Hideaki Takizawa), and discovers the truth of the link between the children, their dead parents and the mysterious figure.
There is a good story here. Topics like child abuse and trauma are toyed around with, with a leading figure whose motives are indiscernible. Unfortunately, it caves in upon itself, laden by an affected manipulation that makes the film tedious.
He throws in plenty of motivations here - good ones even, but Shimiau’s effect to do his deft “are-they-evil-or-are-they-victims” flips are frustrating. In the end, it gets so inconsistent, it just collapses into a pile of bewilderment and annoyance. When the final tussle happens but ends with a character hugging an unlikely another, you will feel completely flummoxed.
It would seem that Shimiau not only has a fascination for kids, but cats as well. Toshio from Juon has always drawn as many scares as he has chuckles. The reason for this - his meowing. To this day, I’m not sure if I should run or scratch his chin.
In Kodomo Tsukai, the black figure will wield several props that won’t look out of place in an anime. For some weird reason, every action is accompanied by the wailing of a cat. This is literally caterwauling, folks. The reason for this is never explained, and the sounds make the character more clown than nightmare, which although could serve a purpose, is more baffling than enigmatic.
When the story revealed the whole background, I felt completely cheated. Like, I-can-see-the-ventriloquist's-mouth-moving kind of cheated. With such a rich subject matter at hand, the folklore origin is such a cliche, it’s almost offensive. I was a little surprised by how amateurish that segment felt.
Even though Kodomo Tsukai has a few good creepy moments, courtesy of the kids, this is barely a horror film. Shimiau created complex and terrible universes for Juon, but completely dropped the ball on this one. And gosh, that tune gets really old after a while.
(The topics of child abuse gives birth to a terrible folklore, and like missing its parent, this film feels neglected in treatment and direction to give a poor horror showing)
Review by Morgan Awyong