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KakuRenBo: Hide & Seek (2004)

There is a rumor among Tokyo kids of a game called Otokoyo, a version of hide and seek that is played in an abandoned square in the dead of night. Only seven kids all wearing the required fox masks are allowed to enter. However, the rumor says that any who play are taken away by the demons who supposedly stalk the city streets. A young boy named Hikora chooses to play for the sake of finding his sister, Sorincha, when she never came home from playing Otokoyo. Will Hikora be able to find his sister or will he suffer the same fate as all of the children who dare to play this dangerous game?

KakuRenBo or Hide & Seek, is a 25-minute cel-shaded Japanese animated short film. The film was written and directed by Shuhei Morita with Daisuke Sajiki as lead designer. After it's initial release in September of 2004, the film was shown in multiple film festivals around the world. Most notably winning the award for the Most Notable Entry at the Tokyo International Anime Fair in 2005 and various Best Short films awards overseas.

Before I jump into the review, I just want to put it out there that I'm not a huge fan of the horror genre, animated or otherwise. Which is why around this time of year, I tend to avoid most conventional scary movies that some people tend to binge for the month of October leading up to Halloween. However, despite my scaredy cat nature, I have had the opportunity to experience several animated films that have altered my perception of the genre and how enjoyable it can be.

KakuRenBo: Hide & Seek, is one of those films.

Though this short film is over a decade old now, I'm still impressed with what Morita and his dedicated team were able to put together with just a 25 minutes of animation. Both the atmosphere and mystery are the films major strong points, with amazing shots of this abandoned city district and how lights from the street lamps make the shadows much more ominous. The character designs for the kids and the demons were unique while keeping in line with certain anime tropes and Japanese folklore respectively.

While the film had great build up to the big reveal at the film's end, I did leave the experience a little confused. That is, until I watched the director interviews included in the DVD. When discussing the main inspiration for the film's story, Morita talked about old tales where parents would warn their kids not to play Hide & Seek in the dark. If they disobeyed, demons would take them away. The other side of that inspiration, is the idea that in modern day cities (lit up by the street lamps) kids can still play outside at night.

Now I know here in the US that kids playing alone in a city at night is never a good idea regardless of lighting, but it is interesting to see a modern take on this childhood cautionary tale. First-time foreign viewers may still be left a little confused by the abrupt ending, and horror fans may not get as many jump scares but KakuRenBo WILL make you feel very uncomfortable. The kind of scare that isn't all that obvious at first but sets in the more you think about it. Which, in my mind, is far creepier than any jump scare.

Part of that is due to the story's take on this folk tale, the characters ultimate fate, but even more importantly is how the animation brings the Otokoyo demons to life. The demon's presence in this film while a bit too brief, for viewers outside of Japan they're a breath of fresh air from the typical monsters that are seen around Halloween. By the end of the film, viewers will get a taste of what makes these kind of Japanese demons so terrifying.

Horror film aficionados may walk away disappointed, but if you are an animation buff looking for a short film in the spirit of the season then look no further. KakuRenBo will leave you shivering as you contemplate the true horror behind this short film's ending.

KakuRenBo: Hide and Seek is available on DVD on Amazon and Netflix.