A spooky, high quality ghost story for the whole family
The "Gakko no Kaidan" (aka Haunted School) (1995-1999) theatrical film series consists of four separate movies with unrelated story lines. Therefore, one can watch them in any order. The first three films had the same general premise, with a small group of grammar school children who get trapped in their school by supernatural forces and are forced to run away from a wide variety of ghouls. I recommend all three of those, especially "Gakko no Kaidan 2" because it has some very cool special effects that are a lot of fun to watch. This entire series is appropriate for the whole family.
"Gakko no Kaidan 4" distinguishes itself from its predecessors because it scraps the "chased by ghosts in a limited area" structure and goes instead for a more classical ghost story. It also cuts out some of the goofy humor. However, the use of grammar school kids as the main characters is preserved. The story starts off with a flashback from decades into the past, where four children play hide and seek but become victims of tragedy. Decades later, some other little kids awaken the ghosts and investigate as their friends begin to disappear.
On the surface this sounds like a generic film, but the style and execution are very unique. First of all, one of the refreshing aspects of this series of films is that almost all of the focus is on the grammar school kids. Even the ghosts are represented by mischievous children. It's really cool to see such young children interact with horror elements and mysteries that are typically directed at adults. Second of all, the visuals are unique. The flashbacks are shot in stunning black-and-white, there are a few impressive special effects, and the finale (which takes place in a huge underwater school building) has some gorgeous set designs. Third of all, the scare tactics are very creative. There are no ghost girls with long black hair, nor are there any jump scares. There's a lot of spooky atmosphere, but nothing that would terrify a young viewer. Fourth of all, the storyline is well-conceived and the performances are very good.
This is considered to be a newer classic by the few who have seen it, and it's easy to see why. Totally worth seeking out, and although it may be difficult to find, it's the only film of the series that is available with English subtitles.
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