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Featured DVD Review: The Sylvian Experiments

October 10th, 2011

The Sylvian Experiments - Buy from Amazon

Hiroshi Takahashi has written a number of movies, most notably the Ringu and its sequels. However, The Sylvian Experiments is only the second movie he's directed. The amount of critical praise Ringu received is amazing. It is widely seen as one of the earliest J-Horror films and set many of the standards for the genre. This does put a lot of pressure on this film, perhaps too much pressure.

The Movie

The film begins with a grainy black and white film showing medical experiments performed on human guinea pigs. They involve an area of the brain called the Sylvan Fissure that, when stimulated electronically, produces vivid hallucinations. Some even thought they were able to use these experiments to find proof of the afterlife, and there was certainly some compelling evidence of that captured on the film. Dr. Hattori and her husband discovered the film while looking through an abandoned hospital and were so enthralled with what they saw that they didn't notice their two young daughters, Miyuki and Kaori, were in the back of the room watching the film as well. When the two children saw the bright light at the end, it affected them quite deeply.

Flash forward many years in the future and we see one of the sisters, Kaori, now an adult, on the anniversary of her father's death. She decides to call Miyuki, but can't get through, because her sister recently died. Miyuki died so recently, that her body hasn't been found yet. At least that's what Miyuki is told what happened when she awakes in what appears to be a hospital.

We then flash back a little bit to Miyuki waiting at a train station. She is met there by Kazaushi, Takumi, and Rieko. Once they are together, they meet up with a man named Hattori, who drives them to a secluded spot in the woods where the five of them are planning on killing themselves. However, Hattori is actually working for Dr. Hattori and the gas that was supposed to kill them merely knocks them out long enough for the Doctor and her team to collect them, bring them to the hospital, and perform brain surgery on them. It seems Dr. Hattori is determined to continue the experiments she saw in those films, even if it means using her own daughter as one of the patients.

In the meantime, we go back to Kaori, who is looking for her sister and has called the police in to investigate. After someone sees a woman in Miyuki's apartment, Kaori decides to stay the night, in case that person returns and can help her find her sister. That night, she's visited by her sister, or at least an apparition of her sister. Miyuki warns Kaori that someone dangerous is coming and leaves a hint that their mother is involved. The next day, Dr. Hattori's assistant starts following Kaori and then Dr. Hattori herself meets Kaori for the first time in years. Dr. Hattori explains Miyuki was a patient of hers for years because Miyuki had migraine headaches. But when Dr. Hattori brings Kaori to her lab to continue the experiments, in hopes of contacting Miyuki, who has disappeared along with Rieko. But that's when things really get weird.

Actually, this movie is weird from the beginning to the end. This is both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand, the film certainly has an interesting premise and there are a lot of moments that effectively build tension. On the other hand, I would imagine most people reading this would react to this movie with a simple, "Huh?" Maybe they were even throw in an angry "What?" once and a while. (That was my response when it was revealed Rieko was pregnant with the afterlife. What does that even mean?) The film was also hurt by bouncing between the medical experiments and the police procedural aspect. The cops were never going to be well-developed characters, so it was wasting time dealing with them when we could have learned more about Miyuki, Kaori, and their relationship with their mother.

The Extras

There are no extras on the DVD.

The Verdict

I can't be overly enthusiastic about The Sylvian Experiments. I do appreciate trying something new and enough works that it is worth checking out for fans of the genre. However there are enough flaws and the DVD lacks any extras, so a rental will be enough.

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