Japanese schoolgirls can take a lot of punishment – and not in the way the English schoolgirls do in those videos Ramsey Campbell collects. Quite apart from the cheerful, sailor-suited teenagers folded and stretched and twisted into screaming corpses by curses in the Ring and Grudge series, there is an entire genre of movies in which J-chicks are transformed into zombies, mutants or ghost apparitions and keep coming back from hideous mutilation. Stacy, the Tomie films, Tokyo Gore School and the self-explanatory Frankenstein Girl versus Vampire Girl are instances – and that’s only the live action stuff. Even wilder indignities are visited on many, many schoolgirls in anime.
This six-part TV miniseries (only the first two aired at FrightFest, but the whole thing will presumably show up on some streaming service) – created by Yasushi Akimoto (the One Missed Call franchise) and exec produced by Darren Lynn Bousman (of the Saw sequels) – features Maki (Sakura Miyawaki), who has been treated with an experimental stem-cell process after a gruesome traffic accident and emerged with .rapid healing processes, a chillier personality and the ability to infect others with her condition by fluid transfer. Though the ‘turned’ girls recover from stabbings and falls off the school roof (it takes three episodes for the authorities to put up a fence) they are prone to nosebleeds that show off their crow-black blood – the black bleeds are the big image of the show, though squawking crows also feature a lot without being tied into the plot.
The first episode begins with a public debate between American researcher Dr Grossman (Charles Glover) and Japanese colleague Dr Seto (Tetsuya Bessho) about the ethics of ‘playing God’ by devising cures like the black blood solution. A legless guy in the audience stabs the ‘random dude’ sat next to him as a rebuke to Seto’s position that scientists shouldn’t dabble in these areas. It turns out that Seto is a hypocrite because Maki is his daughter and he has gone against his own ethics in order to save her life, but his arguments seem to be the sort of thing Edward Van Sloan might say in a 1931 horror movie rather than a position taken by an actual scientist these days. Given the conventions of mad scientist melodrama, things get out of hand and there are unfortunate side effects – when one girl tries to save her cancer-suffering mother, the woman perks up but carelessly chops off her fingers while preparing a salad and then suffers accelerated ageing – but the whole thing feels contrived in its anti-science attitudes. The middle episodes have the condition spread throughout the school Maki transfers into while uninfected girl Kaoru (Mayu Watanabe) and a reporter for a UFO/Bigfoot tabloid (Yuria Kizaki) uncover the backstory … and bad things happen to a few extraneous teachers and troublemakers.
The last two episodes get away from the city as the school takes the girls to a resort hotel for a treat – in the isolated setting (beyond the reach of cellphones), Maki and her posse spread the condition through a free-for-all massacre. Meanwhile, Seto has accidentally discovered an ironic antidote (formaldehyde) which suggests that the turned girls are living dead and need to be embalmed into their proper condition. Though it has time for some pathos and we get a range of characters – including a ‘good’ turned girl (Anna Iriyama), a stalwart head girl type (Yuki Kashiwagi), a pair of punk-dressed rebels – the show gets into a confusing free-for-all at the end. A scene in which the heroine scatters hypodermics of formaldehyde onto a pack of fighting girls is ridiculous on any level, and the stirrings of an interesting theme as Maki tells her new flock that they can create their own world now are obliterated by a simple punch-up. The real hurdle this drama doesn’t get over is explaining just why the turned are Evil – demonic wickedness just seems to be a routine side-effect of radical therapies in the way that messing with an Indian burial ground will lead to carnage. Directed by Ryo Nishimura, who has worked on a Death Note TV series.