Directors/Screenplay – Akira Hirose, Hiro Kay, Kazuya Ogawa, Takeshi Sone, Producers – Takeshi Sone & Hitoshi Yoshikawa, Photography – Takeshi Sone, Music – Lauren Taylor, Makeup Effects – Kazuyuki Okada. Production Company – Lilyfilm/Barron Group.
Lauren Taylor (Claire), John Klopping (Joe), Eiji Inoue (Furen), Stefanie Estes (Angelina), Amelia M. Gotham (Kate), Narisa Suzuki (Yuri), Koji Alexander Niiya (Nobby), Clayton Cook (Ralph), Claudia Zielke (Sofia), David Gunther (Priest), Caitlin Masters (Lynette), Jordan A. Borges (Jack), Nicole Alexander Lvova (Monica), Kanschichi Hiro (Ken), Peter Algien Cluff (Professor), Eiji Leon Lee (Detective Evan), Mennell Alkhawaja (Sarah), Elissa Rowe (Umeko)
All over Los Angeles, there are reports of the Japanese legend of the slit mouth woman. Her ghost will appear and ask people if they think her disfigured face is pretty and she will then kill them depending on their answer. The teenage Claire’s best friend Monica is killed. Claire believes that the slit mouth woman is connected to her sister Sarah who has researched Japanese legends. Kokkuri-san:– A group of male friends are upset to find that the cute Japanese waitress at the local Rainbow Cafe has died. Other waitresses there also begin dying. Joe tries to protect the remaining waitress Kate, realising that the girls are being killed by a vengeful ghost after using a Kokkuri-san, a Japanese ouija board. Furen the Evil Hunter:– The traditional monster hunter Furen arrives in L.A. to deal with the reports of the slit mouth woman. Umeko’s Friends:– Jack is befriended by Ken after stopping to help him with a broken-down car. Ken insists on introducing Jack to his sister Umeko. However, Umeko proves disturbed and wields supernatural powers in her determination to not let Jack get away. Am I Beautiful?:– Claire learns the secret of the slit mouth woman and how it relates to all the other stories.
The Slit-Mouthed Woman or the Kuchisake-onna is a figure from Japanese urban legend. According to the legend, she is a wife who was found with another man by her husband who then slit her mouth from ear to ear with a sword. She appears to people asking “Am I Beautiful?” – when they answer “no”, she kills them; when they answer “yes”, she carves their mouth to resemble her own. As the film here depicts, the only solution seems to be replying “I think you are average.”
There have been several films based on the legend of the Slit Mouth Woman with The Slit-Mouthed Woman (1996), Slit-Mouthed Woman (2008) and The Slit Mouthed Woman Returns (2012), as well as the pinku film The Slit-Mouthed Woman (2005). The most popular of these was the series begun with Carved: The Slit Mouthed Woman (2007), followed by A Slit-Mouthed Woman 2/Carved 2 (2008) and The Slit-Mouthed Woman 0: The Beginning (2008) where the Kuchisake-onna was made into the basis of another J-horror series along the lines of the Tommie, Ring and Ju-on/The Grudge films. In that the Slit-Mouthed Woman is an urban legend, none of the films are bound by copyright meaning that there have been several competing tellings of her tale with some of these bouncing off the success of the 2007 film. Slit Mouth Woman in L.A. does not appear to be connected to the main series or any of the other film versions – it does not, for instance, come from the same production company or feature any of the same personnel from any other of the above-listed.
With Slit Mouth Woman in L.A., four different Japanese directors have come to Los Angeles and hired a bunch of unknown local actors (and one or two Japanese actors) to make the film. The intent seems similar to the English-language remakes of the Ring and The Grudge series, as well as a host of other Asian horror films. In this case the idea seems to be to head the Americanisation process off at the pass by making their own English-language version first. What results is four different tales in which the Slit Mouth Woman is more akin to the narrator in an anthology, connecting the tales. She does not feature in several of the stories, which concern themselves with other aspects of Japanese folklore. That said, she does feature in the final tale, which also unites all of the other stories together far more solidly than most other anthologies ever do.
None of the directors have a particularly high profile. Akira Hirose has made a couple of action films, including one erotic samurai film; Takeshi Sone appears to have made several other horror films, including the After School Ghost Story series, which stretches to four films, although nobody appears to have seen these; while Hiro Kay is a newcomer. The only other director I had previously heard of was Kazuya Ogawa who previously made the strange and obscure Killer Motel (2012).
I kept wanting Slit Mouth Woman in L.A. to kick in with the spooky uncanniness of the better J-horror films. But it didn’t. It feels at best like a wannabe. Of the four segments, Kokkuru-san is the most substantial storywise and reaches a resolution that comes with the appearance of a ghost and a mild twist on what is happening. On the other hand, I failed to buy the central relationships in the story. The idea of three guys in their twenties all having an unspoken crush on a waitress at a Japanese-themed bar and running around like junior detectives seemed like something that belongs in one of the regularly-made Japanese high-school dramas. It feels like a vision of American culture made by people outside the country.
Furen the Evil Hunter is the slightest of the stories. It feels like no more than a B-budget superhero film – the title monster hunter turns up and engages in a few animated power blasts – and there is little else to the piece.
Many people at the film festival screening I was at had walked out by this point but things started to improve with Umeko’s Friends. Here the film starts to deliver something spooky, particularly when it comes to the end of the episode with the ghostly Umeko coming after Jordan A. Borges like another Sadako or images of her brother Kanschichi Hiro evoking the curse and hammering at a tree. It is here and in the final episode Am I Beautiful? that the varying story strands start to come together and merge the various characters that have appeared throughout into an interwoven story. Overall though, this amounts a couple of spooky images but a not particularly memorable film.