The Greatful Dead is thankfully not a documentary about the psychedelic rock band, Grateful Dead. Rather, it’s an occasionally amusing and slightly morbid Japanese horror film. It’s unquestionably not a film for everyone—it has the potential to not only weird out a more conservative viewer, but also fail to impress a more seasoned horror film watcher. Many Japanese horror and thriller films indulge in excessive violence, which can tend to border on ridiculous (films like Ichi the Killer  or Oldboy  come to mind), but this balance is typically struck in a more cohesive and effectively unsettling manner than in Greatful.
Greatful follows a young girl, Nami, who was neglected as a child. After her mother leaves the family to pursue her great passion of helping poverty stricken children from third world countries, her father retreats even further from Nami until he kills himself. Her sister then moves out, leaving Nami completely alone with a sizable inheritance from her father. And that’s all within the span of ten minutes. The opening, really, is the most intriguing and disturbing portion of the film. A young, ignored Nami starts developing extreme resentment for people, and erratic, violent behavior. Instead of delving deeper into the origin story, the film jumps to Nami’s young adulthood as an aimless voyeur, in search of other lonely people to study.
She calls these loners “Solitarians” and tracks them extensively. She hones in on one in particular: a crotchety old man who has alienated himself from his family. Nami is overjoyed at the sight of his loneliness, but is soon horrified when a young Christian volunteer helps the man find religion and the desire for change. Nami then takes matters into her own hands, and attempts to undo the self-change the old man has attempted. The film ultimately goes downhill from there, as the bizarre combination of lighthearted comedy and grotesque violence seem to just clash. Whereas this style aids certain films in more thematic ways (like Hausu ), here it comes across as a more desperate attempt to be original and to shock viewers on a shallow level. With the right mindset, this could be a fun venture into comedy/horror, but most likely it will be a forgettable, if not slightly unsatisfying, experience.
The Greatful Dead is the opening film of the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival, in partnership with Philadelphia Asian American Film & Filmmakers. Event info and tickets here.
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.