THE WHISTLER is a short film by Shinya Tukamoto, commissioned by the NHK television station for a 4-episode series of ghost stories called KAIDAN HORROR CLASSICS. The series took a more reflective spin on the traditional ghost story by noted writers and film directors who normally might not necessarily work in this genre; uniting the diverse talents of Shinya Tsukamoto, Sang-il Lee, Hirokazu Kore-eda and Masayuki Ochiai.
Directed by underground shock-horror director Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo, Body Hammer), THE WHISTLER benefits from the contrast in matching the director's edgy filming technique with a more reflective ghost story written in the traditional style by Osamu Dazai. Yuko (Aoba Kawai) has devoted herself to looking after her terminally ill younger sister Itsue (Eri Tokunaga), who has been given only a hundred days to live. Yuko is in love with a boy who has gone to fight in the war, but the memento she left with him has been taken back by her father who disapproves of the boy as a suitable match. When Yuko discovers a bundle of letters written to her dying sister from an anonymous man who signs with the initials M.T., it sets off an emotional conflict within the young woman that leads to a series of disturbing nightmares.
Despite the subtle psychological exploration of Yuko's state of mind and the fairly traditional ghost story themes that are reminiscent of the Lafcadio Hearn tales so enormously influential on the genre, Shinya Tsukamoto not unsurprisingly adopts an approach that is quite different from the colourful theatrical sets and the lyricism of Kobayashi's KWAIDAN. Rather he employs the now familiar style of underground filmmakers, using a restless and jumpy handheld camera to keep the viewer on edge even as the story delicately unwinds. Other familiar images such as nightmare figures crawling across the floor prove just as creepily effective and in keeping with the nature of the story here, never resorting to cheap jump-cut scares.
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