Spoiler-Free Reviews: “Whale Bones” and “Six Singing Women” (Japan Cuts 2024)

July 11, 2024

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at josephperry@gmail.com. He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

Whale Bones (Japan, 2023)

Horror-adjacent Japanese feature Whale Bones delivers social commentary about the fickleness, loneliness, and desperation of life on social media apps, along with a good deal of mystery. Salaryman Mamiya (Motoki Ochiai) is unceremoniously dumped by his fiancée. On the advice of a coworker, he uses a dating app to meet someone for a hook-up, who turns out to be a young lady named Aska (Ano, who also has a singing career). Aska commits apparent suicide in Mamiya’s bed, after which he attempts to bury her body in the woods — only to find it missing from the trunk of his car. Director Takamasa Oe crafts a vibe heavy on the unease as an increasingly paranoid Mamiya then encounters many people who are obsessed with Aska’s online life and are doing their best to learn why she hasn’t added new video posts for some time. The world of Whale Bones exists somewhere between the real, surreal, and unreal, where detachment from society presents its own set of fear and dangers. Strongly recommended for its enigmatic atmosphere and fine performances.  

Six Singing Women (Japan, 2023)

Writer/director Yoshimasa Ishibashi’s mesmerizing Six Singing Women combines thriller, horror, and fantasy elements in a feature that also addresses humankind’s disconnect with nature. Japan has a strong culture of folklore and spirituality involving supernatural elements directly connected with nature, and Ishibashi places two men at odds with each other, trapped in a mysterious sylvan setting by the titular sextet. Professional photographer Shin (Yutaka Takenouchi) learns that his estranged father has died. He travels from the Tokyo home that he shares with his partner Kasumi (Rena Takeda) to the remote mountain area where his father lived so that he can sell the house to a man named Uwajima (Takayuki Yamada), who has secrets about the area that he hopes to profit from. The two men are involved in a car crash, and find themselves at the mercy of the decidedly strange women. Ishibashi has crafted a gorgeous-looking film — Cinematographer Yuta Takahashi splendidly captures the beauty of the mountainous and forested settings — wonderfully offbeat and keenly paced, with engaging performances. Recommended for all manner of cinephiles, I highly recommend going into the unique, sometimes surreal genre film Six Singing Women as cold as possible. You should feel richly rewarded.   

Whale Bones and Six Singing Women screen as part of Japan Cuts 2024, which runs July 10–21. For more information, visit https://japansociety.org/film/japancuts/.


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