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Body count: 5
Entertainment factor: 0/5 (2/5 if not for the kids)
Eek factor: 2/5
Ooh factor: 1/5
Ouch factor: 4/5
Film Elements
  • ghosties
  • revenge
The legend of the Kuchisake-onna (Slit-Mouthed Woman) is well-known in Japan and starting to make its way across the ocean. A beautiful woman, a surgical mask, a mouth slashed to her ears, and varying means of death or escape for those who answer her question: “Am I pretty?” Kuchisake-onna is a pretty typical take on this tale; its attempts to bring something new to the Kuchisake-onna story come up short.
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Of course, the story begins with children giving us a summary of the Kuchisake-onna legend. While cheesy, it’s a pretty useful catch-up for those who aren’t familiar with the legend. We get a glimpse of the two protagonists, then the Kuchisake-onna’s ghost is released by an earthquake from the…closet where she’s been trapped. And we don’t see her again for a good long while. In the meantime, the story follows Yamashita Kyouko, a new teacher at a new school, and Mika, one of her students who is getting picked on in school and abused at home.

At long last, Mika rounds a corner, and Yamashita comes running just in time to see her apprehended by the Kuchisake-onna, who walks right past Yamashita with Mika stuffed under her arm. Clearly, she’s after something—but what?
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The police begin their investigations for missing children, but since no one will pay serious attention to the Kuchisake-onna tales, not much gets done. Matsuzaki has an idea, though. That strange female voice suddenly inside his head is rather helpful, too. He and Yamashita use it to home in on where the Kuchisake-onna will strike next. And when they find her, it seems she’s not really interested in the children at all—she wants Matsuzaki.
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The Kuchisake-onna herself doesn’t appear until nearly a third of the way through the movie, unless you count the brief glimpse when she’s released at the beginning. Granted, it’s a reward when she finally pops up. The visuals of her open mouth are pretty impressive. The technique of hiding the creepy-crawly from the audience for a significant part of the film can work—if the plot is strong enough to keep things going while we wait. This plot buckles. The acting is wooden, the soundtrack is boring—there’s just nothing here besides a lot of running around and yelling “Waah! It’s the Kuchisake-onna!”

In fact, it took me ages and several watches just to figure out what the Kuchisake-onna’s motive is. “If you don’t chop off my head,” Taeko tells her son, “I’ll come back to life and kill you!” He did kill her, like she asked. Just not the right way. With that realization, the whole film becomes nothing more than a supernatural hissy fit.
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I’m left with too many questions. If the Kuchisake-onna has been stuck in a closet all these years, how did the legends start in the first place? Haven’t there been other earthquakes? Why didn’t she get out then? Why don’t the characters ever wise up to the fact that stabbing the Kuchisake-onna repeatedly with squishy sound effects will only result in someone else’s dead mother? Why did Taeko have to be so picky about the method of her death? Since she no longer has a son to cut her head off, is she just going to keep on going?
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The symptoms of kuchisakitis are, apparently, a sudden violent cough, followed by a ducking out of the camera frame. (As Taeko was sick, and people wear hospital masks because they’re sick, it does work.) Having the Kuchisake-onna suddenly pop up (and dodge death) by possessing other mothers is rather creative; I’ll give them that. It even starts to get into some psychological issues. The main chill factor in this film comes from imagining a situation in which your mother, one of the people you’re supposed to be able to go to for safety, is out to get you.
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The film doesn’t explore that angle. Child abuse, and the evils of, play a big role. However, the film doesn’t manage to make much of a comment on the matter, other than “that’s, like, bad or something”. It had potential. A ghost who targets children, mothers who target children—lines could be drawn between the two. Too bad they’re not. There’s a reason why all of the screencaps here are of the Kuchisake-onna. The plot points that don’t involve her directly involve injuries to children, and I will not screencap that.

Despite its pitfalls, I would have placed this on my “mostly lousy, but still somewhat fun” shelf, except for one thing. It shows little kids getting hurt. I’m not talking in the Battle-Royale-over-the-top-blood-social-commentary sense. It’s just little bitty kids, getting hurt. That is never, and will never, in any sort of way, be entertaining.