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Dark dreams and dim memories
A region 2 DVD review of REQUIEM FROM THE DARKNESS, VOL. 1: TURMOIL OF THE FLESH by CNash
 
"This world is full of strange twists. Which is right and
which is wrong, we cannot say. Life is a mystery."
– Mataichi


MVM and Geneon invite you to enter the strange and disturbing world of Natsuhiko Kyogoku in Requiem from the Darkness, an animé series based on Kyogoku's tales of supernatural folklore. Going back to the 19th century, we view this world from the perspective of Momosuke, a writer of children's riddles who is looking to branch out and write an anthology of supernatural stories. While collecting material for his book, he happens across a trio of strange characters who always seem to be somehow involved in all of the local myths and legends: Mataichi, the diminuitive leader of the group, who sells charms and spells; Nagamimi, a mystic master of disguise; and Ogin, the manipulative puppet-mistress.

Momosuke soon discovers that the trio are, like him, traveling around the country searching for supernatural legends. Their job, however, is to mete out karmic justice to any evildoers who have been using the legends for their own personal gain. Since Momosuke's destinations are often the same as theirs, they continually bump into oneanother – Momosuke not only gets a chance to build up his story collection, he begins to learn more and more about what the trio are really doing through witnessing their unorthodox interpretations of "justice".

The series gets off to a good start with Volume 1, subtitled "Turmoil of the Flesh". Four of the thirteen episodes of this series are contained within:

1. Azuki Bean Washer
Seeking shelter from the rain in a derelict shop, Momosuke has his first encounter with Mataichi's gang, and sees them solve a years-old murder case that has become a local legend.

2. Willow Woman
Back in town, the trio show up again, this time investigating reports that the spirit of a willow tree is killing any woman who dares to marry the local innkeeper.

3. Enchanted White Fox
Mataichi delivers a warning to Momosuke not to meddle in their affairs, but when he is sympathetic to a hunter who's started killing people, he can't help but interfere again.

4. Dancing Head
Momosuke finds himself falling for a woman who is being victimised by a samurai. Naturally, Mataichi and co. are also on the case.

Requiem's intention, like that of Kyogoku, is to tell standalone supernatural horror stories based on real local myths. The scant narrative that joins the tales together – Momosuke's constant search for new material – is merely a device upon which the director hangs the stories of the threesome. I tend to favour standalone episodic animé series like this one, as opposed to series that rely too heavily on an overriding story arc, as it makes any such series that much easier for new viewers to jump into at any point. No prior knowledge of any of the characters is required.

Unlike most horror serials, which more often than not attempt to rationalise the concept of monsters in human society, Requiem does not pretend that its monsters are anything other than mythological creatures. The real monsters – the antagonists of the tales – are human, and in this way, Requiem is free to base stories around the darkest depths of humanity, touching upon themes of child abuse, murder, rape, bestiality and necrophilia. The message is clear: humanity is bad enough without society having to invent fictional "monsters".

The flow of the series is steeped in imagery. It is sometimes hard to tell what is real and what is not. Like the forthcoming Paranoia Agent, Requiem reflects on the world through the minds of its characters, which leads the animation to be highly stylised – prone to artistic "mutations" and other extra-normal effects. Coupled with the often claustrophobic nature of some of the stories, the animation is thus used to fully immerse the viewer; the mark of a good horror story. On a final note, I did notice some CGI usage, though it's used sparingly and only where appropriate.

Requiem features some of the most deeply disturbing scenes I've even seen in an animé. Instead of the graphic violence being used to shock audiences and nothing more, it – like the overall animation – provides much of the series' dark atmosphere. The punishments dealt out by Mataichi's gang are perhaps a little over-the-top, but for the most part, the gore adds emphasis and moves the plot forward rather than just being "there".

Finally, on the audio front, nothing really jumped out at me on the soundtrack. The opening and ending themes take a page out of Yoko Kanno's book with their subdued bluesy vocals. Voice acting is great; the only voice that doesn't quite fit is that of Momosuke, who's played a little less seriously than he perhaps should have been. 

Requiem from the Darkness is one of those series that horror anthology fans will love to sink their teeth into, and it's engaging enough for general animé viewers too. However, due to the graphically violent scenes (and some real, not implied, sex), it's not one that I would recommend to younger viewers. Despite the episodic format, I found myself drawn into the depressing world of Kyogoku's imagination, and I'm eager to see whether Volume 2 can deliver as well as Volume 1.

sound and vision

A 4:3 framed NTSC to PAL transfer, the video quality is nonetheless good. The strong contrast and preference for pastel rather than prime colours certainly helps here, and the drawn comic style of the graohics is very cleanly reproduced.

As mentioned above, the Dolby 2.0 audio never really leaps from the speakers, although is clear and well produced, with background sounds – wind in rice fields, etc, – subtly effective. The original Japanese and an English dub is available, both of similar quality.

extra features

Nothing special for this MVM one-disc release: two Art Galleries, textless opening and ending and trailers for Samurai 7 and Samurai Champloo.  

Requiem From the Darkness
Vol. 1: Turmoil of the Flesh

Japan 2003
100 mins
director
Hideki Tonokatsu

DVD details
region 2
video
4:3
sound
Dolby stereo 2.0
languages
Japanese
English
subtitles
English
extras
Art galleries
Textless opening and ending

Trailers

distributor
MVM
release date
Out now
review posted
11 September 2006

See all of CNash's reviews