The Slit-Mouthed Woman (2007)
Director: Koji Shiraishi
Writers: Naoyuki Yokota and Koji Shiraishi
Starring: Eriko Satô, Haruhiko Katô and Chiharu Kawai

The Plot: Our story takes place primarily at an elementary school within Japan, where the story of “the slit-mouthed woman” has come back into popularity with the youth. The original story seems to be that the slit mouthed woman is indeed just that, a woman whose mouth has been slit from one cheek to the other. She often appears wearing a long white coat and a surgical mask over her face, and then asks “Am I pretty?” Afterward she kidnaps her victims and then cuts their faces to look like her own, with her primary weapon being a large pair of scissors. In the context of our story, it seems that after a relatively large earthquake the slit mouthed woman’s rest has been disturbed and she arises to torment all of the young people within Japan. Our story focuses on several people in the surrounding area, including two teachers, who must confront this evil spirit. Will they figure a way to stop the evil slit mouthed woman? And who exactly is she?

The Review
The story of the Slit Mouthed Woman is one that I have come across before. During my research for Teke Teke, I found that this myth is actually one of the more popular campfire stories within Japan. Even more popular than the story of Teke Teke itself. Similar to “Bloody Mary” here in the West, this slit mouthed woman is very popular within Japanese culture and can be seen represented in a million different pieces of artwork via a simple Google image search. A spectral figure who was apparently wronged somehow and has come back for vengeance against all children, the story caters to the fears of small children and has survived several generations. This film acknowledges the popularity and history of this story within its introduction in a very interesting manner. The film starts with a tightly edited montage of young kids telling variations of the story to one another while their parents tell them their own variations. For cultural outsiders, this is a good way for the audience to become familiar with what is very likely a tremendously old story within its home country. This feature film doesn’t look to tell a “origin” story for the Slit Mouthed Woman so much as capitalize on the popularity of the story and create something wholly original within its place. While it may not be exactly what you expect, The Slit Mouthed Woman turns out to be a fairly fun re-invention of a popular piece of Japanese folklore.

The Slit Mouthed Woman is another horror title from infamous Japanese genre director Koji Shiraishi. He is a filmmaker who continually astounds me in the wake of his truly awful film Grotesque. For those unaware, Grotesque was a film touted as the Japanese answer to Hostel, but it had even less plot and featured only sensational violence that did not compliment the film. However, it turns out that Shiraishi isn’t simply a director capable of making excessively gory films, he is actually a very solid director within this genre. Although his films are generally low budget and look to capitalize on rising trends, the quality of the films are surprising. His work consistently features great cinematography, tight editing and daring deviations from generic horror movie cliches. Even Grotesque featured many of these concepts, but it ultimately missed out on a truly interesting narrative and went for bland shocks. The Slit Mouthed Woman is a title that delivers on the shocks, but has a more deliberate narrative and doesn’t run away from its mythological history. With these things in mind, it may ultimately prove to be the best film I have seen from Shiraishi.

Despite the intense atmosphere of The Slit Mouthed Woman, it remains a fairly unconventional movie in its delivery. Although it most certainly has all of the expected beats that a horror movie such as this one would be expected to have, the way that Shiraishi approaches delivering the horror is very different. The idea of shooting a horror movie in the broad daylight is a gutsy prospect no matter how you look at it, and that is exactly what Shiraishi does with The Slit Mouthed Woman. Almost every time that I, as a viewer, have ever seen this done it has always had disastrous results. When everything is so broadly visible, it becomes very difficult to build tension or fear. In this regard, I have to commend The Slit Mouthed Woman. Although it isn’t a terrifying movie, it does manage to develop a very dark atmosphere. At times, the movie is actually so intense that it can be rather chilling. When I contemplate the sequence that leads to the first physical altercation between our two lead characters, both of whom are teachers at the local elementary school, and the Slit Mouthed Woman… I am slightly taken back. The scene leads to one of the first “jump scares” to really catch me off guard in a very long time. The scene is built upon in a very innocent way and Shiraishi doesn’t go about any of the scares in a cheap or tactless manner throughout the movie. When the filmmaker proves to be this patient in scaring the audience, he can figure ways to make 5pm seem like a rather spooky time of the day. The disturbing look of the slit mouthed woman certainly has a part in making this “daylight horror” actually work, but the taut editing and post-production filters are generally what gives the movie its creepy atmosphere.

The technical merits of the production are all generally stellar. Although the movie doesn’t feature a huge cast, the actors used are all quality players. Actor Haruhiko Katô, who audiences may remember from Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo, plays one of the leads in the film and is nearly unrecognizable due to his modest hairstyle. This was likely an attempt to make the youthful-looking actor appear more mature, and it does that job admirably. I don’t recognize many of the actresses, but they are all very solid here and get into their roles with ease. The production was likely low budget, but it seems as if it may be one of Shiaraishi’s bigger releases. Despite the low budget background, the movie receives a respectful release here in the west. The DVD, released by Palisades Tartan as a part of their Asia Extreme line, is surprisingly not as bare bones as you might expect. It features the requisite theatrical trailer, but also throws in a reel of TV spots as well as a small segment featuring interviews with a few of the cast members. The most interesting aspect of the DVD is probably the 15 minute behind the scenes extra that features more interviews and a peak at the film being made. Not bad at all for such an obscure title.

The Conclusion
The movie is probably the best work that I have seen from Shiraishi so far. The director is a purely commercial filmmaker who seems like the type to jump on any bandwagon that might produce popularity, but his releases are of a very steady quality and are usually far better than they need to be. He may very well turn into a modern Roger Corman of sorts, but he has quite a few productions to go through before he comes anywhere near close to grabbing that title. The Slit Mouthed Woman is not a perfect movie, as if it even needs to be said. For the most part, it can be a bit generic in terms of plot development. It also attempts to reach out and speak to audiences about child abuse, but the general thesis becomes a bit muddled as the movie runs along. However, it is a lot of fun and the special FX are surprisingly well done. Definitely check it out. I give it a high three out of five, but it came very close to grabbing a four.

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