Tomorrow the complete collection of comic book artist Kazuo Umezz’s Horror Theater comes out on DVD in the US. Tonight, we try to make sense of one of the six hour-long films that comprise the anthology. Not because The Wish is hard to understand, oh no. I’m sure it would have been crystal if only I could have found it with English subtitles.
I kid. The story is a perfect dark children’s fairy tale, and it speaks to the strength of the story that I was able to enjoy the story so much without understanding one word of the dialogue. If my interpretation that follows is overly simplistic it is because the story seems to me to be on a level for children (or dumb foreigners who only speak English).
A friendless schoolboy who looks to be around middle school age walks home from school every day alone, after being taunted at the gate of the school by the other children who are happily walking home in pairs and groups. Obviously he is ashamed rather than angry about his plight, because he ignores his mother’s questions when he comes home and goes silently to his room. He is too proud to ask for her help, choosing instead to do what countless lonely horror protagonists before him have done: he builds himself a friend.
Because this is a horror movie, naturally his friend is a hideous looking life-size wooden puppet with sharp carpenter’s nails for teeth. And because the boy does not know how to act with a friend, he has the puppet sit silently beside him at his desk every night as he used to do alone. Typical of a parent in a child’s story, we see his mother spending a lot of time alone during the day vacuuming, because a parent is often reduced to his or her repetitive actions in a child’s world. One day, she finds the horrible puppet sitting in her son’s desk chair before the boy comes home from school. Her reaction is to scream of course, but her expression and the camera angle on her face makes me think there is some dark humor here which may be the only element I’m missing because of the language barrier. Her son comes in just at this moment and angrily yells at his mother. It becomes apparent from her body language that not only is she afraid of the puppet, she is starting to fear her own child.
She begs her husband for help and he finally agrees to send the boy to a new school. The location cure seems to work. He finds a human friend in the girl who sits next to him and brings her home to play after school. He is even considerate enough to hide the puppet in the closet. But chillingly, the camera shows us a POV shot from inside the closet and we know what is coming next. At first the puppet isn’t seen in motion but he is found in different places than the boy left him. The boy sneaks out and buries the puppet at a construction site. However, he feels remorse for having cast aside his first friend and goes to retrieve him the next day. Unfortunately the construction is finished and the puppet is gone forever. Yeah right.
First the boy and his new girl friend have a little tiff at school and she falls down the stairs. The boy looks up the stairs and to his horror sees the puppet disappearing around the corner. The boy was not standing in a position in which he could have pushed her and it was obviously the puppet.That night the boy has nightmares about the puppet and he goes to sleep with his parents, reaching out to them for the first time. But this wouldn’t be a fairy tale without a lesson. Because he waited too long to ask for his parents’ help, and because he created the situation with the evil puppet, he alone has to solve the problem. I believe the character, who has learned the trait of self-reliance from his years of isolation, wouldn’t be happy any other way.
He comes home from school the next day to find that his mother has disappeared in the middle of cooking dinner. Then the power goes out and the boy hears glass breaking upstairs. The puppet has climbed in through the upstairs window and is now not only walking, but biting. The puppet would be no match physically for the child if the boy was not so frightened. Finally the boy becomes brave enough to attack it back and beats it to death with a chair. In doing so he kills his old timid and shameful self and gets what he most wants: to be confident and brave. Then we see the note he overlooked from his parents. They were out picking up his girl friend, who has recovered from her fall. As his parents and friend enter the room the boy flings himself into his mother’s arms as his father kneels beside him and his friend looks on in concern. The boy has learned that he doesn’t have to be alone to stand alone.