What They Say:
Ghosts. Curses. Demons. If you crave tales of terror and seek mysteries that defy explanation, go to the park at 5. That’s when the man in the yellow mask will arrive with his kamishibai, the paper theater, to tell his sinister stories of Japan’s darkest side. But be warned: this storyteller’s works may do more than simply send shivers down your spine. Because the more fascinated you become with the supernatural, the more the supernatural may become fascinated with you.
Enter a world where the closest of friends can become the deadliest of enemies, where the most mundane of objects can become hair-raising nightmares, and not even one’s own family can be trusted to remain human. Dare to pierce the veil of darkness and a realm of ultimate horror awaits as you discover Yamishibai – Japanese Ghost Stories!
The audio presentation for this series is kept simple but effective as we get the original Japanese language track only, which is in stereo and encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The show is one that really is primarily dialogue based between the narration and what the characters talk about and do but it also works the incidental sounds and other sound effects well to create the right kinds of scares and chills. The small scratches, the thunk sounds, and all those traditional scary sounds are here to varying degrees and it comes through well to really enhance the mood and give it the right atmosphere. The show doesn’t go for truly big or impressive moments with its sound design but it works what it does do effectively in order to really engage the viewer in the right ways. Dialogue and effects are clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2013 and 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twenty-six episodes of the two seasons are kept to one disc since they’re five minutes each – including a minute of English credits after each episode. Animated by ILCA, it works the paper drama style really well with some great detail and fantastic color design to really go for that traditional Japanese horror style. These types of stories are familiar to longtime anime fans to be sure as we’ve seen variants on them within traditional shows and the same kind of style and design work. ILCA really captures the mood well and once you get past that initial aspect of the animation design you realize it really is spot on perfect for what they’re trying to achieve here. It’s a show that has a clean look, in a sense, with great colors and a definitely sense of style that comes across well.
The packaging design for this release is done with a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the single disc inside. The front cover goes for that murky and old looking design that fits the material perfectly even if it’s a hard sell in a more traditional sense. With the shadowed aspects in the background and the light coming from below, the murky works in its favor when usually it’s a distracting and problematic element. The logo through the middle is simple but effective and the top makes it clear it’s the first two seasons of the series. The back cover is a little more traditional, though again with a murky background, as we get a few shots from the show and a decent summary of the premise in the middle that’s a little difficult to read with the color choices. The production credits are straightforward while the technical grid breaks it all down cleanly and simply. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu layout for the release definitely works considering how many episodes are here as we get the main static image being that of the old man and his bicycle through which the paper dramas unfold. It’s got the old and decaying look that’s just right for it while the navigation along the left breaks down the episodes by number and title. It has a secondary menu that takes you to the second season episodes so that we don’t have all twenty-six across one screen as that can look far too busy and problematic. The navigation is simple and easy with just the extras to be had here beyond the episodes and everything loads quickly and easily while being intuitive.
The only extras included with this set are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
An original series that kicked off in the summer of 2013 and had its second season the following summer, Japanese Ghost Stories is a short-form show that runs about four minutes per episode. I had some difficult getting into it when it was simulcast because these are not really shows that you can write about individually unless perhaps you’re steeped in Japanese horror lore and can expound upon it in more historical and cultural ways. I’m usually not a big horror fan but that’s more that I don’t care for the popularity of the splatterfest material we get out of Hollywood in the past decade or two. Anime has produced some pretty solid horror series over the years that have really gotten my attention so I definitely went into this with the right frame of mind.
That said, this is a series that works on a very specific level. At first you might believe these are done as a morality tales where if you do certain things bad things will happen to you. In the space of about three minutes we get these tales that sometimes just drop us right into the middle of events and run with it as bad things are going down. A young man looks out his apartment window and sees a creature leap into another apartment where a young woman lives. When she returns, seemingly normal at first only to start acting like the creature in disturbing ways, his panic sets him to trying to figure out the reality of the situation all while realizing that he may be next. There’s no greater context here and no lessons to be learned or choices that were made. It’s simply some bad shit that goes down and people are caught up in it.
Some of them do play to the choices more, such as the high school girl who sees a group of boys outside her apartment lot playing with a smudge of a shadow on the ground. She promises to play with them later, not realizing she’s made a promise to something supernatural. When she falls through on it the whole thing becomes disturbing as the kids claim the friend is already in her apartment and she realizes the stain is there. Again, it’s not really a choice she made because who would believe a stain on the ground is a disturbing supernatural pact that’s about to be made. The chills are in this by watching how the kids interact and look as well as the utterly horrifying (but not blood splattery) end result moment as she’s sucked up into it and becomes an eternal friend for this thing as well.
In some ways, these feel like parables about how abruptly life and all that you know or believe in can end in a split second for no reason at all. These quick hit stories run across the gamut with salarymen, housewives, high school students, elementary school kids, and older folks from all walks of life. There is no real consistent element to it beyond the old man that tells the tale at the start of it. And these acts of random craziness and surrealness are engaging to watch. I did the foolish thing of watching all of them in a row (why these episodes are on separate titles is beyond me with the encoding!) late at night so that I could get into the mood proper since they originally aired at 2:15am in Japan. And it works effectively if you give in to the manipulations at hand and explore this kind of horror.
Yamishibai is one of those complicated series that’s hard to recommend in a general sense. Its audience will know what it is and scoop it up to savor it. Those unfamiliar with it I’m wary of recommending it to unless they really want to try something different than they usually do. I found the various episodes to be engaging and compelling, some more than others, and could easily see how even a few minutes expansion would make it even more frightening. I’m a big fan of seeing short-form shows come over and I really hope this finds its audience because they’ll soak it up and love it. Sentai put together a solid release here – there was no way this show was going to be dubbed – and it’s at a solid price all things considered. I feel like I can only give this kind of conditional recommendation to to it but if you’re will to try something far different than the norm than this is definitely one way to do it.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: April 19th, 2016
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.