Another serviceable Asian ghost story.

Arcana is based on Yua Kotegawa’s manga series, and is filled with some nice imagery, based around an unusual tale of ghosts and the living dead. This is director Yoshitaka Yamaguchi’s first effort, which is abundantly clear based on some of the decisions he made that are typical from first-timers. Arcana is a very ambitious sort of film to tackle as an opener, and because this was the director’s first, he looked as though he was trying a little too hard, mixing different styles, perhaps in a bid to please everyone. This is more noticeable at the start of the film, although, it does settle into a rhythm as the film progresses. Yamaguchi’s second and newest film Neko Zamurai, has just been released in Japan, with Arcana just coming to us now.

Because this is a story taken from a manga series, it feels as though it’s been edited down quite a bit for film, and with a complicated plot such as this, it couldn’t have been an easy decision on what parts to omit and which to include, and that’s where the problem lay. What was left felt a bit convoluted and as such, a deft and more experienced hand may have been able to unravel this story a little better, however, Yamaguchi’s direction, while not perfect, was certainly passable.

Directed by
Yoshitaka Yamaguchi
Masataka Nakagauchi, Tao Tsuchiya, Takuya Uehara, Goro Kishitani
Release Date
Nav’s Grade: C+

Arcana starts off with a young woman attempting suicide with her spirit leaving her body. Jump six-months and visions of blood and carnage are seen, and appear to be some memories returning to a young woman. She arrived at the hospital suffering from amnesia and the doctor is trying to help her get her memories back. When Maki, as she’s eventually named, goes missing from the hospital and turns up at a crime scene holding a fresh human heart ripped from the chest of one of the victims, the police take her in for questioning.

Maki (Tao Tsuchiya) can see spirits, as can Detective Murakami (Masataka Nakagauchi), one of the cops who arrested her, but he’s in complete denial about seeing them. Within the police department are the Spiritual Affairs, a team of ghost hunters who work mostly in secret from the public and even other departments within the police. When the living dead, known as Alter Egos, start murdering people and ripping their hearts out, both divisions of the police must work together and try to stop them.

Alter Egos are basically born when someone tries to commit suicide and fails, or something traumatic happens to them, then their doppelganger eventually has to kill their original self or they’ll fade away. They live hidden away from humans and they have a leader who teaches the newly arrived Alter Egos how to kill their old selves in order to survive. It’s never made clear why they’ve suddenly started appearing in Japan but it is hinted at that Alter Egos were known about during WWII, and that’s why Spiritual Affairs were formed. There are also ghosts that need help to be put to rest, but this felt like an after thought the way they were used in the story, when I feel in the manga they may have been more prominent.

Detective Murakami’s underling, Nakabayashi (Takuya Uehara), starts to lose respect for his boss, especially when Murakami’s visions of ghosts start getting worse, and he begins to act weird. Murakami and Nakabayashi were obviously tight at one time, but Maki gets in between the friends, with Nakabayashi trying everything to prove her guilt after she was found at that crime scene, but Murakami continues to defend her.

I didn’t get a sense of chemistry between Masataka Nakagauchi and Tao Tsuchiya, who were clearly supposed to have a strong attraction to one another. The pacing was also a little off, with Arcana starting a lot stronger than it finished. The mixing of styles during the first act was a gamble that I felt didn’t pay off as well as it might, as director Yamaguchi appeared to start off with this vision in his head of the way he wanted to take Arcana, then abruptly changed his mind, and on top of that a hard to follow story, where the ambiguity may be a little too much for some.

Even with my misgivings, Arcana‘s story and its originality, certainly won me over, and with some good performances by the cast, I don’t have a problem recommending the film. Just lower your expectations a bit, and you should appreciate the movie for what it is.

Review by Nav Qateel

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