aka ゴーストスクワッド aka Gôsuto Sukuwaddo
Written and directed by Noboru Iguchi
G-g-g-g-g-ghost Squad!! Sorry, just getting the “g-g-g-ghost” joke out of the way early! Ghost Squad is the latest from splatter auteur extraordinaire Noboru Iguchi, who has been covered by TarsTarkas.NET many times and will be covered many more times, as his films are usually filled with fun dumb energy and lots of ridiculous effects and plots that manage to entertain and occasionally comment on various aspects of society in the warped way that only exploitation cinema can. Ghost Squad joins the pantheon of his fun films, with plenty of crazy action and weird effects. Splatter fans might find little to be excited about, as the gore is subdued for a Iguchi film. But there are ghost ladies beating a guy in the junk with a meat hammer arm, a ghost with a dog for an arm, a ghost with a Machine Girl-style gun arm, and a gun with a baby face. So embrace the ridiculousness of a squad of murdered ghosts coming together to get their revenge with Ghost Squad!
Rika (Anna Yanagi) is your normal teen girl with an abusive father (Iguchi regular Yûya Ishikawa) who also sees ghosts. She explains this to her scoffing boyfriend Yosuke while also observing a ghost named Keiko Furukawa (Sumire Ueno) who struggles to write a letter to her father while slipping between being aware and unaware that she is dead. Rika goes to work as a waitress, but Yosuke follows her to harass her. But he didn’t count on Keiko also following along, as well as another ghost named Akari (Minori Mikado), who soon spring to action just as Yosuke is slashing Rika’s wrist. They beat him down and give him a few extra holes due to impalements, but let him survive enough to be in the hospital later.
Rika awakens at home with her wrist bandaged, and soon learns from the ghosts that they can only interact with the physical world when she is close to death (she learns this as she tries to hang herself from depression and guilt!) She quickly makes friends with Keiko and Akari, and also a third ghost named Yoshie who at first is a story telling framing device but quickly joins the main story as a fellow ghost. The three ladies need to get revenge on the men who attacked them in order to pass on to Heaven. It’s the law, Ghost Law. As we see later when Naomi Ohishi (Asaka Nakamura) shows up, it actually is the law and there is a whole bureaucracy set up to make sure they get revenge on everyone. Biggest critique here seems to be only lady ghosts have to get revenge, as we see a male character murdered later who goes directly to Heaven. That is totally unfair, we need to reform our Ghost Laws!
Rika agrees to help them as long as they don’t kill anyone, and soon the ladies are out and the mayhem begins! Standout ghost is Akari no question, she gets so excited to have friends and be on a revenge quest that she often thinks she’s just an excited puppy and begins pouncing on and licking Rika. She’s just so excitable and it is a sharp contrast from all the Rika, Yoshie, and Naomi, who are either dour or sullen. Keiko obsesses over her dad and by the end becomes delusional and weird, which also helps keep things fun.
It turns out everything is connected, as the men who hurt Keiko went on to separately hurt Akari and Yoshie, which means they can all get their revenge at once. But first they got to train and use their ghosts powers! It’s also discovered that they can get energy transferred to them to fight in the real world by kissing Rika, which allows for some more exploitation tossed in. Thus the fun begins, with crazy ghost fights, the villains teaming up to try to get the ghosts, and Rika desperately trying to keep the vengeful ghosts under control as things spiral out of control. It’s a blast, the villains are all horrible people so when bad things happen to them it’s extra cathartic, and Iguchi keeps switching in new weird things so the big fight stays interesting.
The scenes where actual violence is happen to the women are shot in completely different styles where things are completely serious. There is a fine line between the fun fantasy violence and the real world violence, and Ghost Squad recognizes and respects this difference but also doesn’t sugarcoat the issue that these ladies met bad ends from bad people. Supposedly the murders are based on real murders, though I am not familiar enough with Japanese murder lore to know if that is accurate or not. Keiko’s story does seem inspired by Junko Furuta (which is NOT a story to read lightly!) So if you are extra sensitive to that stuff, this might not be the movie for you, but this genre wouldn’t be a choice of yours, regardless.
Many of the actresses were also in Igushi’s 2016 film Devotion to Cinema, where they were created as an idol group called No-makes (as in “no makeup”) Here they even play characters with the same names as Devotion to Cinema, and the film even continues the lesbian theme of the first one. No-makes is an “actress idol” group where the stated long-term goal is to produce actresses that start winning performance awards, but so far they just seem to be appearing in Iguchi-related movies and internet videos and nothing has been updated in a while, so who knows.
Although I know about a lot of random stuff, I’m not going to pretend I know about Japanese juvenile crime laws, backlash towards any such laws, or if there was a series of juvenile crimes where the perpetrators were released with a slap on the wrist and went on to do more horrible things. Nor do I know if the film’s constant frustration that the villains were set free after only a few years to live a normal life is justified. There does appear to have been some controversy related to that, so this isn’t an issue wholy invented for the movie. I can speak that the resulting ghost bureaucracy in this universe is tilted against those who are wronged by those that still live, and especially weighted against women. It becomes their duties to seek out revenge, or they become trapped in the land of the living, unable to interact except maybe by a few individuals like Rika who can see them. However this system was set up, it seems terrible and I support a full ghost rebellion to tear it down and install an more equitable system where you don’t need to exact vengeance upon the living to get to Heaven, but also support a trial and summary judgement of the living by ghost tribunals. Being dead, they’d have all sorts of extra powers to figure out exactly what happened. But that would deprive us of movies where a ghost girl gets revenge with her dog hand upon her killers. Can the world afford such a sacrifice? We must be brave in the face of such loses.
This screening was for the 2018 Another Hole in the Head film Festival, I’m glad they got it as I missed when Ghost Squad played at the Roxie for one night in May due to class. Ghost Squad delivered on a ton of fun and bizarreness, filled with the kinds of things you just can’t see anywhere in movies, and we’ll continue to follow Noboru Iguchi’s cinema wherever he goes.
Please give feedback below!