Saturday, June 27, 2009

Shimako Sato's Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness (1995)

After a prologue with some lines from John Milton's Paradise Lost, specifically invoking the name of Lucifer, an unknown woman is seen running frantically through the streets of Tokyo, where, unsurprisingly, no one cares. However, the red-robed Satanists, in the midst of some serious mumbo jumbo during a ritual, have her in mind; and after the unknown woman takes a dark corner, she is met with a gruesome girder killing. One of the red-robed is singled out to finalize the plan in their Satanic conquest, and it is happening at a high school. As the teenagers are walking towards the school to the hauntingly minimal piano score, Mr. Numata waits at the front gate. After groping one young woman, Kazumi, Numata stops another, saying he doesn't recognize her. The new student is Misa Kuroi (Kimika Yoshino), who is also a witch, arriving to stop the Satanic evil in the school in Shimako Sato's Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness (1995).What follows in Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness is a little Harry Potter, some Nancy Drew, and a tinge of Degrassi High, with a lesser budget, some steamy sex, and a healthy dose of bloody violence: a perfect potion for cinematic exploitation. There's the jock, Shindo, who's immediately enamored when he first glimpses Misa. There's also the poseur, Mizuno, who likes the attention he receives, because he's into magic. Mizuno does reveal that the rash of recent murders all have taken place geographically in the shape of a pentagram with the school in the center; however, when he tries cast a spell for Kazumi on the roving-handed Mr. Kumata, he's upstaged by Misa. Mizuno becomes jealous of Misa's genuine talent and he attempts to turn her classmates against her. Kurahashi is Misa's doting new friend, who Misa ends up saving after someone sinister casts a spell upon her. Mr. Kumata ends up dying, and Mizuno's plan of turning Misa's classmates against her nearly comes to fruition, as all eyes fall on Misa as the cause for not just Kumata's death but all the mysterious occult deaths occurring around Tokyo. One evening, while all the students are summoned after school to take a math test by Ms. Shirai, they are all going to need Misa's help as they get locked into the school with the number "13" written on the board (and the Satanic shenanigans begin). Oh, and by the way, to spice up this mix, Ms. Shirai is sleeping with Kazumi. They like to do it in an empty classroom and provide Eko Eko Azarak with its steamy lesbian sex scenes.
The final two-thirds of Eko Eko Azarak becomes survival horror involving spell-casting and possession with lots of arterial spray and some gruesome killings. The film's location is primarily the school but absent, however, are the pop songs and cell phones. Eko Eko Azarak has a good overall sense of dread and mystery, which is aided by the low budget. Sato is able to use a singular location, as did Toshiharu Ikeda with Evil Dead Trap (1988), and focus on it tightly, so it appears to the viewer as claustrophobic. It works. The absence, also, of any positive happy images or music adds to the dread and foreboding of the mystery and horror. Even on a very subtle level, Sato takes his quiet and focused style and is able to make a profound criticism of the current school system, its teacher-student relationships, and even modern relationships between adults and children. The best aspect of Eko Eko Azarak is the character, Misa, and the performance by Kimika Yoshino (whose photo is currently the header for this blog in Takashi Miike's Gozu (2003)).
The viewer knows virtually nothing about Misa or her background. Sato would draw Misa's history much deeper in his subsequent feature Eko Eko Azarak: Birth of the Wizard (1996), with Yoshino returning as Misa. However, the mystery surrounding Misa adds both to the film's overall sense of mystery and the tragedy within the film, as well. Mizuno learns that at Misa's previous school there were several deaths involving Misa. She tells this to Shindo, and it's why Misa cannot get close to anyone. Shindo doesn't care. He loves her anyway. Kimika Yoshino is strikingly beautiful and has gorgeous sleepy eyes, which she imbues with both sadness and intense focus. Yoshino's fantastic, while the rest of the cast gives stereotypical over-the-top performances in stereotypical roles. Eko Eko Azarak does have it's share of b-movie cheese, especially near the end, and the cheese ranges from slightly annoying to awesomely sublime.
Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness is a little film that has stayed with me since the first time that I saw it around its original release date. It's certainly cheesy, but it's comfort-food cheese: fun to see every once and while and not really filling but certainly, deliciously consumable.

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