Kakurenbo: Hide and Seek Review (2005)

Kakurenbo: Hide and Seek Review (2005)

English Title Kakurenbo: Hide and Seek
Japanese Title Kakurenbo
Kana Title カクレンボ
Director Shuhei Morita
Release Date 2005
Distributor Yamato Works

Kakurenbo is the debut film of Shuhei Morita. A notable figure for being one of a very select anime directors to ever have been nominated for an academy award. From Kakurenbo to helming the anime adaptation of Tokyo Ghoul, Morita has had a knack for horror and the supernatural from the beginning. Whilst it was his follow up, Possessions, or Tsukumo which earned him his nomination, Kakurenbo is equally as accomplished using the same folkloric elements and cel shading approach to animation.

The game is called Otokoyo. Near the ruins of an abandoned city, seven children in kitsune masks gather to play a game of hide and seek where those caught by the oni disappear forever. The story follows Hiroka, a boy in search of his sister Sorincha who went missing after playing otokoyo. Disbelieving at first, the children soon come to change their tune as they are set upon by a group of mechanical demons.

Variations on the ‘onigokko’ (tag) narrative have become increasingly popular in Japanese horror in the past few decades, as in the wake of Battle Royale, Japanese horror stories have become increasingly ‘game-ified’ or rule based. Gantz, Riaru Onigokko, As The God’s Will and Hitori Kakurenbo just to name a few. By taking the children’s game of kakurenbo or onigokko, and pulling the original meaning of the latter by being a ‘demon’s game’, Morita creates a believable urban legend.

As a fusion of Shinto and a futuristic dystopia, Kakurenbo does a great job at creating sci fi folklore. The robots have a fantastic blend of mysticism and mechanical terror that is impressively mirrored by the setting. With a colour palette of an inari shrine the environmental design helps create an ancient atmosphere in spite of the abundance of machinery. Whilst quite a short OVA, it’s impressive how everything in Kakurenbo has been coherently designed.

Fitting with the Inari theme, the design of the characters themselves is also an inspired choice with each of the kids wearing a unique kitsune mask.  Obviously a decision to get around having to animate human faces with CGI, the masks nevertheless convey a lot of character despite being motionless. For the time period, the computer animation holds up quite nicely. Whilst human character animation suffers slightly, the janky nature of the movements definitely works in favour of the mechanical oni. They charge after the kids with a singular purpose, with their dead neon eyes piercing through the smoky landscape.

Similarly, the sound design is another strong point of the film. There’s a constant hum of the neon lights of the city, as the old fashioned buildings creak and groan under the weight of the antagonists. The sound is always in service of the atmosphere, when it would have been so easy to opt for simple jump scares. The use of traditional Japanese instruments for the soundtrack is also an inspired choice and helps to ground the story in Japanese mythology.

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If I have any complaints, it’s that at just 25 minutes long, Kakurenbo never manages to get across to the viewer why any of the children would voluntarily choose to play otokoyo. While protagonist Hiroka has a motivation in wanting to find his sister, the other children have little reason to be there. As with every other element of the film, Morita seems more interested in the monsters, who despite never uttering a word have a clear motivation as neo gods of thunder. The lack of any real strong character arc or motivation may be a problem for some, but as with the best short films, Kakurenbo gives most of its attention to visual storytelling and atmosphere.

While Kakurenbo could be accused of being style over substance, it’s through this style that the short manages to tell its story. The film won’t necessarily appeal to those looking for a deep narrative or character motivations, but the simplicity of the carefully selected collection of tropes, influences and folkloric elements come together in a way that will please both anime fans and folklore buffs alike.


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Craig Hatch
Craig Hatch 41 posts

<p>Horror Japan is Craig Hatch, a Brit currently living in Tokyo, Japan. Horror Japan is a project that aims to review and collate media from all aspects of Japanese horror culture.</p>

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Editor review

Rating
4/5

4

Good
4
Summary

While Kakurenbo could be accused of being style over substance, it’s through this style that the short manages to tell its story. The film won’t necessarily appeal to those looking for a deep narrative or character motivations, but the simplicity of the carefully selected collection of tropes, influences and folkloric elements come together in a way that will please both anime fans and folklore buffs alike.