Studio: Presidio Corporation
Director: Toshikazu Nagae
Writer: Toshikazu Nagae
Producer: Yasutaka Hanada, Takeshi Kase, Kenichi Nakayama
Stars: Aoi Nakamura, Noriko Aoyama, Kazuyoshi Tsumura, Kosuke Kujirai, Maaya Morinaga, Ayako Yoshitani, Toze Yamada
When a Japanese student kills a San Diego woman in a car crash, she inadvertently brings a demon back with her to Tokyo.
J-horror earned its own sub-genre classification because Japanese fright films often lean in a different direction than their Western counterparts. The general distinction is that American horror deals more in the physical terrors of slashers, serial killers, and similarly tangible threats. Asian themes are heavier on phantasmagoric elements, particularly spirits, poltergeists, and vengeful ghosts.
Which makes “Paranormal Activity” an especially ripe franchise for an Asian-specific spinoff. The top tagline touts “Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night” as “The Official Japanese Sequel,” although it is unclear to which word the term “official” actually applies.
Opening credits associate “Tokyo Night” as “based on the film Paranormal Activity by Oren Peli.” To my knowledge, the series proper has not outright disowned the film’s existence, though it is never mentioned either. This may be a case of grey area copyright law and international film distribution tactics like the one that saw Lucio Fulci’s Italian production of “Zombie” released overseas as a sequel to George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.” One thing that can be agreed upon with certainty is that this sequel is officially Japanese.
Exchange student Haruka Yamano has her trip to America cut short after breaking both legs in a car accident. Her father is called away on business at the same time, leaving Haruka’s brother Koichi as the lone caretaker while rehabilitating back home in Japan.
Haruka is insistent that her wheelchair moved across the bedroom on its own while she slept. On a hunch, Koichi puts a pile of sea salt in his sister’s room, sets up a video camera, and the siblings watch in astonishment the next day when the recording shows the salt inexplicably scattering about the floor.
This is about as ridiculously fast as anyone can jump to the conclusion that a house is haunted, but at least “Tokyo Night” does not waste time putting the wheels in motion. With enough weirdness to make the siblings say “hmmm,” Koichi keeps the cameras rolling as suspicion grows that Haruka may have brought an unseen presence back with her from the United States.
“Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night” is a largely empty shell. As a worthy addition to the PA legacy, there is as much distance between “Tokyo Night” and its predecessor as there is between the locations of the two movies.
For two-thirds of the screenplay, the paranormal activity and the people experiencing it have too little context for events to register as meaningful. In the original “Paranormal Activity,” there was an unusual amount of specificity given to the demon and its motivations. A clear endgame remained in sight with regard to what the entity wanted, what it was doing, and how it was accomplishing its tortuous torment.
Here, the paranormal presence repeats the M.O., but his purpose is more ambiguous. Usual scenes of bed sheet tugging and disembodied footsteps are a crutch substituting for genuinely chilling creeps.
There is less a feeling of escalating tension and more a sense that the demon is unsure how to terrorize these teenagers. So it thumps down the hallway, invisibly flings open the bedroom door, and flutters a curtain before moving furniture or linens around. If no one figures out what happened until the tape is reviewed, then the demon repeats the steps until finally convincing Haruka to give up a yell.
Around the 54-minute mark, “Tokyo Night” fills in the backstory with a kernel that ties nicely to the first “Paranormal Activity.” It also makes the story seem not as much like a random smattering of yawn-inducing ghost encounters.
(Although predictable, MILD SPOILER ahead for anyone who would prefer the revelation remain an “ooh” moment.)
The fact that Haruka’s accident took place in San Diego was already an obvious clue. It turns out that the woman she hit and killed in the wreck that broke Haruka’s legs was Katie Featherston. With Katie dead, the demon latched on to Haruka and made the jump across the Pacific Ocean.
This detail is at odds with how Katie’s post-PA1 timeline actually played out, which is what popularly renders “Tokyo Night” as a non-canon entry in the PA series. Looking at it another way, it can be argued that dead is not necessarily dead in the PA universe. Who is to say that Haruka did not kill Katie and Katie reanimated? If Katie can morph into a demon face before killing her family, she can probably return from the dead, too. Technically, developments in the other PA sequels do not have to render this one impossible.
Although the movie is dry and slow to gain speed, it does capitalize on its subtitle. “Tokyo Night” delivers authentic Japanese flavor with a Shinto priest purification ceremony and depictions of a Japanese lifestyle that make the film slightly more than a straight rehash recast with Asian actors.
The flipside of the culture switch is that it adds a perception of discomfort to the main players. Koichi and Haruka have an incestuous subtext playing between them. This is either a personal misreading of their interaction or a translation gap in language or custom. A particular line of dialogue emphasizes the strange tether when a friend tells Koichi, “no wonder you don’t have a girlfriend when you see your hot sister everyday.” Giving the film the benefit of the doubt, maybe that was a mistranslated subtitle.
Odd observations aside, not much distinguishes “Tokyo Night” as a “found footage” horror film, a “Paranormal Activity” sequel, or a ghost story. Whether with a camera dumped on a table to record action without concern for composition, a lead actress overselling terror with exasperated breathing, or unnecessary characters disappearing faster than audience interest in the story, “Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night” transcends cultural boundaries. Which is another way of saying that the movie proves concepts like cash-ins, clichés, and slow-paced boredom mean the same thing in any language.
NOTE: The Japanese title is "Paranômaru akutibiti: Dai-2-shô."
Review Score: 40