Koji Shiraishi proves his sincerity and devotion to the found footage subgenre in his 2012 low-budget mockumentary Senritsu Kaiki File Kowasugi! File 01 – Operation Capture the Slit-Mouthed Woman. While it’s beyond question that Shiraishi has made an indelible impression on the horror subgenre with his immortal Noroi: The Curse (2005), his undermined respect for his medium makes him a true champion of the sapped and easily exploited subgenre.

The Senritsu Kaiki File Kowasugi Files is a film series that best represents Shiraishi’s long-standing craze toward Japanese mythology and found footage—a match made in heaven. It’s no secret that Japan has an enduring and deeply bound relationship with its paranormal lore. Like a lurking ghost in the corner of a haunted room, the country’s obsession with ghost stories will always creep into the culture. Yet, the development of technology and its accessibility to the masses has impacted how people digest these supernatural stories; either modernity responds to their curiosity with ever-changing science and tech, or it makes them even more inquisitive as to what is real or not.

Senritsu Kaiki File Kowasugi File 01, poster

Shiraishi’s fascination with found footage and Japanese mythology will always be interesting. The subgenre, designed to look and feel genuine, provides a free rein to actualize how Japan will, hypothetically, treat its longstanding folklore and mythology in the age of technology. It’s a visual reality that makes Japanese ghost stories relevant to the society we live in now. But this will not happen without Shiraishi’s direction. He doesn’t just use these Japanese ghosts to amp up the shock value but invites us to actually give a hoot about them.

The proliferation of V-cinema in Japan and the J-horror boom from the 90s to 2000s greatly impacted how Shiraishi envisioned and formulated the storytelling in his previous found footage films. He seems to have justified his stylistic genre filmmaking by maximizing the potential, modesty, and aesthetics of direct-to-video films to realize the found footage subgenre’s hidden depth with him at the helm. And this is best seen in the very idea of the Senritsu Kaiki File series.

Able to accumulate all the usual Shiraishi veins, File 01 pumps blood and thrills throughout its 70-minute runtime. As the title suggests, a documentary crew composed of director Kudo Hitoshi (Shigeo Osako), assistant Miho Ichikawa (Chika Kuboyama), and a cameraman (played by the film’s director himself) aims to catch the Slit-Mouthed Woman or the Kuchisake-onna. Shiraishi takes advantage of the found footage medium by utilizing its inherent intention, which is to capture something unbelievable yet seemingly true on camera. The image of the Slit-mouthed woman wandering during the day is truly an unbelievable sight to see. Still, Shiraishi doesn’t back down from startling the audience because he made daylight the stuff of nightmares.

He never shies away from this, from Noroi to Occult. Shiraishi doesn’t stumble during the revealing climax, because he knows the reveal is not supposed to stale our curiosity but reinforce realism that is essential in selling the story using the found footage technique. Other Shiraishi essentials utilized in the movie are the replays, expert interviews, and visual revelations, which all played a crucial part in forging a sense of authenticity in his other found footage films. These trademarks are retained throughout the film series as they are proven to maintain engaging and informative narratives along the way.

Along with the trademarks is the innate slow burn of the film, unlike other found footage films that use leisured pacing for the benefit of the final reveal¯which is always a risky choice—Shiraishi’s is as deliberate as it gets. He supplements the horror with historical context, disconcerting images, and realistic cases that elaborate on the lore and amplifies the threat and spectacle surrounding the Slit-mouthed Woman. What makes it much more interesting is how Shiraishi allowed social issues to smoothly surface in his ghost story. Homelessness is one of the aftermaths of Japan’s long-withstanding economical recession. Seldom talked about, he revealed the dangers of homelessness in Japan in the context of a brutal ghost lurking around. 

Senritsu Kaiki File Kowasugi File 01, ritual

With all this in mind, be assured that the horror doesn’t conclude right after the jumpscares, but resonates through Shiraishi’s measured and lasting storytelling. It engraves the ghost into our minds, not just in our visuals. Here’s hoping that the succeeding films will avoid too much indulgence in Kudo’s anger issues. There are some scenes in File 01 that, unfortunately, resort to this kind of dramatic narrative to add humor or a minor character study, which are not relevant to the intent of the documentary. Although few, they distract from the believablity the mockumentary is trying to sell. 

The Kuchisake-Onna mythos was already explored by Shiraishi in his 2007 work Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman. With just the perfect mix of mystique and history, it is a brutal treat. But it’s something different to see him go back to it with his distinctive found footage treatment. Shiraishi is at his best in this scene because his found footage direction speculates how Japanese ghost stories and some of Japan’s fascinating mythos will realistically survive in a camera-obsessed world.

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