Sweet Home

English Title: Sweet Home

Original Title: Sûîto Homu

Country of Origin: Japan

Studio: Toho

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Producer(s): Juzo Itami

Screenplay: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Cinematographer: Yonezo Maeda

Runtime: 101 minutes

Genre: Horror

Starring/Cast: Ichiro Furutachi, Nobuko Miyamoto, Nokko

Year: 1989

Volume: Japanese

A television producer takes a camera crew, an art restorer and his own teenage daughter into the Mamiya mansion- a house belonging to the artist Ichiro Mamiya, now believed to be haunted- in search of a mural the artist is said to have painted inside the house. They manage to uncover three more murals, depicting a story that seems to involve the death of several children. When their highly-strung art restorer-cum-presenter finds the skeleton of a child in the grounds of the house, the others realise they may have angered the spirits resident in the house. Their suspicions are confirmed when the mansion seems to come alive and people start to disappear.

Although primarily known today for quietly terrifying, unusual horror films like Cure (1997) and Pulse (2001), in his earlier career Kiyoshi Kurosawa worked on a number of relatively straightforward genre exercises like the revisionist vampire tale Door III (1996) and the American-style slasher movie The Guard from the Underground (Jigoku no Keibin, 1992). He made his genre debut in 1989 with Sweet Home, a haunted house movie heavily inspired by Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982) and Robert Wise’s classic The Haunting (1963). With its roller-coaster pacing, brisk editing and big-budget special effects (courtesy of Hollywood FX icon Dick Smith), Sweet Home is a long way from the subtle shocks of Kurosawa’s later works. However, as an attempt to construct a contemporary, Hollywood-style horror movie, it’s more than successful, and definitely superior to the official Poltergeist sequels. Even at this early stage Kurosawa demonstrates a talent for horror, creating a palpable sense of tension and fear within the dark and foreboding Mamiya mansion. Although the special effects are important, Kurosawa ensures that they never come to dominate the film or overwhelm the human characters, as in Jan De Bont’s pointless Haunting remake. Despite the Hollywood trappings, at its core Sweet Home is a traditional Japanese ghost story; Kurosawa’s ghost is a grieving mother whose anguish at the loss of her child has continued beyond the grave. The film’s final act, in which Akiko takes on the role of surrogate mother, is both emotionally affecting and terrifying. Ironically, Sweet Home has a number of parallels with Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist. Just as Steven Spielberg was the driving force behind that film, Sweet Home was produced by Juzo Itami, one of the most successful directors in Japan, thanks to international hits like Tampopo (1985). As with Poltergeist, the extent of Itami’s influence over the film has long been debated; his wife (Nobuko Miyamoto) starred in it, as she has with most of his films, and Itami had a decent role himself. If Spielberg’s family-friendly sensibilities diluted much of the horror of Poltergeist, it’s perhaps fair to say that Itami’s preference for comedy may have been the motivating factor behind Sweet Home’s somewhat incongruous humour. The issue was clouded even further by the revelation that Itami had carried out a number of re-edits and re-shoots for the home video release, and without consulting the director, who then sued the producer. Legal and creative issues aside, Sweet Home is still a highly entertaining film that ranks as one of the best Japanese horror movies of the decade, and a respectable addition to this unique director’s filmography.

Author of this review: Jim Harper