Creepy Hide and Seek Review

There have been several films made about the Japanese urban legend known as Hitori Kakurenbo. There are also several ways that the title has been presented in English: hide and seek with a ghost, one man hide and seek or even hide and seek with yourself. It’s difficult to track it back to its origins, but it was definitely turning up online through chat rooms and image boards like 2ch around 2006 or 2007. It is the sort of deliciously enduring internet tale that has gone on to greater fame much like say the legend of Inunaki Village or here in the West stories of Slenderman. It involves a rather detailed and complex ritual that is said to allow a spirit to possess a stuffed animal or doll that you can play hide and seek. Helping to build its legend, there are numerous steps involved, and the clear warning that forgetting something or failing to perform it the right way can be potentially dangerous.

Directed by Kaoru Adachi, Creepy Hide and Seek (2009) presents a curious take on the legend that stands in stark contrast to other cinematic efforts to adapt the material. There is a lot of interesting stuff here to consider broadly before digging deeper into the film. First, of the numerous adaptations, I think it’s worth charting out at least the ones that have had some presence for English-speaking fans. Perhaps the earliest is from 2008, titled in the West as Hide and Go Kill and directed by Tomoya Kainuma. A sequel, Hide and Go Kill 2, was released in 2009 and directed by Masafumi Yamada. Continuing that Saw franchise-like energy in 2010, we have another film in the series directed by Masafumi Yamada but curiously titled in the West as Creepy Hide and Seek. Having seen these, they all stand as serviceable if average fare that lean hard into J-Horror tropes and are sure to be at least appealing if you are a diehard fan of the genre.

Creepy Hide and Seek Review

But the Creepy Hide and Seek of our focus today takes a much different direction. If you are familiar with Kaoru Adachi then this is perhaps not so surprising. The film was part of an attempt to revive the late 80s to mid 90s home media label MAD Video which Adachi founded. They were equally well known for releasing disturbing content like the Death File series or other shockumentaries akin to the legendary Faces of Death as well as being one of several distributors for the Guinea Pig series. Adachi himself is famed, or perhaps infamous, both as a director of pornographic films and crafting nigh-unbearable extreme horror flicks like Squirmfest. This is a filmmaker who doesn’t have most of his output even listed in places like IMDB, so one can imagine.

Curiously, despite all that preamble and the caution one might have to go in on a movie like this Creepy Hide and Seek is surprisingly more tame than you would expect it to be. It actually sits in a pretty odd spot as far as what it actually is. The cast includes a number of AV stars like Ayane Suzukawa and Luna Amemiya, but outside of some panty shot obsessed camera work and a bit of nudity, there isn’t much overt sexual content. Things do get pretty bloody in a few scenes, but it is a far cry from the sort of extreme horror and shocking violence that one might usually attach to the MAD Video name. Instead, you have an atmospheric slow burn horror film that spends a good bit of its runtime building up towards a more bombastic final act.

The story follows a group from an internet chat room watching and discussing a video about Hitori Kakurenbo. We open on the video in question and its presentation is really great and perfectly nails that sort of lo-fi internet aesthetic you’d expect to see for something connected to an urban legend. As the debate on whether the story is true or not escalates several members decide to meet up at the same location where the video was made and attempt the ritual themselves. Most of the group chickens out in the end leaving just three women to attempt the task of exploring the abandoned site and recording their experience.

So what is the ritual actually? There are plenty of detailed guides (and different variations) that can be searched out online, but in short, it requires gathering a few objects first: a stuffed animal or doll (ideally with arms and legs), some rice, a sewing needle with red thread, a knife, a glass of salt water and a TV. You begin by naming the doll and removing the stuffing packed inside. You then fill it with rice grains as well as something representative of yourself like say some fingernail clippings. Like any good urban legend, there are variants and you can find stories that suggest that you use anything ranging from hair to saliva or even a drop of your own blood. Other versions even include multiple but suggest that the danger is heightened depending on what you use. The film actually makes an odd choice in that regard as for their ritual they slaughter a chicken and pack its guts inside their stuffed animals. I can’t say that I’ve encountered a variant that lists this method, but it made for an interesting scene.

Creepy Hide and Seek Review

Next, you sew the stuffed animal back up and wrap it in the red thread. Then you fill up a bathtub or water basin. Meanwhile, you will want to select a proper hiding place and prepare a glass of salt water there for later use. After all that prep work, you can’t actually conduct the ritual until 3 AM. Horror fans will note that time already has a lot of significance and attachment to paranormal activity. When the proper time arrives you announce to your stuffed animal that you (declaring your name) will be “it” first three times. Then you take the doll and submerge it in the water you had prepared and follow this by going around and shutting off all the lights, then also turning the TV on to a dead channel with just white noise. The next step is to shut your eyes and count to ten. Following this, you’ll go back to the doll with your knife and stab it declaring that you found them (again, using the name you gave it specifically). Then you will declare the doll (once more, using the name) is “it” and leave the knife as is while running to your hiding place.

This is where the creepy stuff is supposed to happen. Each version of the story takes a different stance on what actually goes on and ranges between the suggestion that you will hear weird sounds ramping all the way up to the stuffed animal being animated by a wayward spirit. There are numerous rules here depending, but the key ones are to never leave the building you’re playing in and to remain quiet. Ultimately, when you’re ready to end things you need to take some salt water into your mouth and go seeking the doll. Once you find it, you have to spit the water onto it and shout “I win” three times. There are numerous gotcha rules tied up in this, like spitting the salt water out early or trying to just quit halfway through and many versions suggest burning the doll afterwards to properly dispose of it. You can easily see just how unnerving yet cool and viable the idea is to craft a horror film around.

Creepy Hide and Seek has a decidedly strange atmosphere to it. The online chat from the opening is presented as simple white text on a black background. The low-budget feel of the visuals and the slightly exaggerated acting from some characters make the film’s many ties to AV work somehow overly palpable despite the lack of any racier content. The music has an unnatural feel to it and serves as a weird addition that struck me as out of place. It felt fitting and yet tonally seemed a bit cheap. It catches your attention immediately and yet on a closer listen there is nothing too remarkable about it. More than anything else, aesthetically it reminded me of my days playing early RPG Maker-based horror games like Ao Oni or the original Corpse Party. Honestly, the film feels like an adaptation of such a game with its focus on a small cast exploring a single haunted location piecing together a mystery while faced with potentially horrific fates.

For that reason, unfortunately, I’m not sure how I feel as far as recommending it. Taken just as a film it is exceedingly low budget and a bit plodding and slow. I love slow burn films and I think that the right payoff at the end can justify even a glacial pace to get there. However, I’m not so sure the end justifies everything with this one. I think if you approach it as a psychotronic movie you can probably appreciate it as a very underground attempt at adapting one of the more compelling internet urban legends from Japan that stands in stark contrast to more mainstream attempts. It is slicing down to a niche within a niche but fans of classic RPG Maker horror games ought to give this one a look because I don’t think I have ever seen a more fitting representation of one crafted, with all its quirks and flaws, into a cinematic experience.

Creepy Hide and Seek Review

I checked out the film via Midori-Impuls’ media book release. Based in Germany, the company focuses on promoting the film industry of Japan and licensing titles that have not been sufficiently published in their country. While Germany is the primary area of interest, many of their releases also include English subtitles. Worldwide there’s a distinct lack of accessible releases for movies like Creepy Hide and Seek, so I think the work they are doing is incredibly important to connect such films with their potentially wider audience.

The media book format is simply gorgeous and is sure to be tempting to collectors like me, standing as quite the definitive edition. These releases are also limited run, sometimes with exclusive covers or other extras like a director autograph, and numbered for even more collectible appeal. Their release for Creepy Hide and Seek includes the film on DVD with three variant covers. Notable for fans of guro manga Cover A is designed by famed artist Shintaro Kago. For the sake of transparency, the booklet of included interviews is presented only in German.

The disc menus and special features appear to only be available subtitles in German as well. For this film, in particular, the lack of being able to read the interview was a disappointment because I’m very interested in hearing the director’s mindset behind the movie. As one might expect, the DVD is Region 2. Unless that happens to be the correct release region for you it will mean that you will require an all-region player. However, if you are a collector or even just a connoisseur of Japanese cinema, it is honestly to your benefit to have one and, as an advocate for them myself, I really think it is worth it to have the ability to access top quality releases like the work Midori-Impuls has put in here.

You can pick up Creepy Hide and Seek and their many other releases from a range of suggested retailers found here that are best suited depending on where you happen to be in the world.

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