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cast: Nao Matsushita, Ami Suzuki, Nozomu Iwao, and Kyôji Kamui

director: Kenta Fukasaku

90 minutes (15) 2007
widescreen ratio 16:9
4Digital Asia DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
The first thing an experienced DVD reviewer will do is try out the preview disc as soon as possible, just to make sure that it will actually play in one of his machines. You don't want any nasty surprises with a deadline breathing down your neck. Let it run for a minute or so, just to make sure.

And when you realise that you've been sitting there for over an hour, with your jaw hanging open, you know you've got something quite remarkable in front of you. Closer inspection reveals some gaping holes in the plot of X Cross (or X X), but Fukasaku's rush of sheer audacity sweeps them out of sight. This is a film that just brims with self-confidence. Fukasaku is probably best known as the director of the not-entirely-successful Battle Royale 2, but don't let that put you off.

How to best to approach the plot? A description of the opening will give some idea of what to expect. A ringing mobile phone is lying on the floor behind a sofa and a young woman, Shiyori (Nao Matsushita), plainly terrified, crawls around the edge and picks it up. On the other end is someone warning the phone's owner to get out because she is in great danger. Shiyori is not the phone's owner. The film then fast-winds (at great speed, but just slow enough that the viewer can see what is happening). Shiyori is bathing in hot springs with a friend and, before that, arriving at the village. And then even further back, to the previous occupant (and owner of the phone), whipping through a bizarre pagan scene until she, too, is bathing in the hot springs.

The film then starts again in a conventional manner. The phone's owner leaves the pool and is captured by the villagers who tie her to a cross and chop her leg off with an axe. The film cuts to Shiyori and her friend Aiko (Ami Suzuki), who are arriving at the spa village. Shiyori has just split up from her first boyfriend (Ky�ji Kamui) and is in need of a rest. Aiko, whose idea this trip was, is a bit more relaxed in her attitude towards men and can't accurately recall how many she is dating at the moment. They are so busy arguing about morality that they don't notice a hooded woman has walked out in front of them, and they narrowly avoid hitting her. The woman makes strange scissors movements with her fingers and utters some cryptic threats.

When they eventually arrive at the village, Shiyori and Aiko are perturbed by the crucified scarecrows that they can see, but they don't assume that they are looking at real bodies. Well, you wouldn't, would you? They get shown to their rooms by the creepy villagers and go for a dip in the hot springs. Shiyori goes back to her room and leaves Aiko in the springs. Aiko then phones someone to tell them that Shiyori's just left - remember the name of the film, and do feel free to try and double-guess the writer (Oishi Tetsuya): you may well be wrong. Then Shiyori finds that the villagers are after her and she barricades herself in. A phone starts to ring. This, you notice, has merely taken us back to the start. The film then rewinds yet again, and we find ourselves back with Aiko in the pool. Aiko. The film splits between the two, backwards and forwards, as they each find themselves pursued. Aiko's is hunted by the mysterious and very creepy scissors-woman, and her side of the film turns into a slasher movie with set pieces that Tarantino would kill Bill for. Both girls keep in touch with one another and with the mysterious voices from the outside through their mobile phones. Trust is as scarce as battery power and red herrings fall from the sky with a Fortean abandon.

The comparisons with Rashomon, The Wicker Man (not least because of the Hollywood remake), and a multitude of slasher films clearly have to be mentioned, but it should also be stated that this film is deliberately hilarious in many places. If it has a serious fault, it is that it veers dangerously close to slapstick at its climax. But getting there is enormously enjoyable. If Fuksaku keeps advancing in leaps like this then some day he will eclipse his father. And it might not be a day that's all that far off.

The DVD also includes a 'making-of' documentary and interviews with the cast and crew.

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