In its first few minutes, Takeshi Furusawa’s horror film Another hits a great many tropes and touchstones of its genre and culture: the tenkosei (transfer student), the abandoned school building, the person only one character can see, the girl with an eye patch, and several more. It’s not a reassuring sign, given that Furusawa’s earlier genre entry Ghost Train (2006) was an entirely routine affair. Things pick up as the main plot gets under way, however. Based on the best-selling novel by Yukito Ayatsuji, Another had already been serialized in manga form and adapted into a short anime series before the release of the film.
With his father’s job taking him to India, teenager Koichi Sakakibara (Kento Yamazaki) has moved to his grandmother’s village and enrolled in the local high school, joining class 3:3. He immediately notices Mei – a pretty girl with an eye patch (Ai Hashimoto) sitting alone at the back of class – but when Koichi tries to find out who she is, he’s told that that seat is empty; even the class seating plan says so. When he tries to talk to the girl, the class attitude changes. Repeatedly told to stop talking to “the one who doesn’t exist”, Koichi struggles to understand what is going on, but his efforts to discuss the matter with his classmates are constantly rebuffed. When one of them dies in a horrible accident, the rest of the class turn on Koichi, blaming him for breaking ‘the rules’ and thereby causing the girl’s death.
At the core of Another is a taboo, a societal convention that forbids a certain action, in this case communicating with or acknowledging “the one who doesn’t exist”. That phrase is an example of ‘avoidance speech’, a euphemism employed to avoid direct reference to the person, thing or practice associated with the taboo. Although taboos continue to exist in all cultures, in primitive societies the breaking of these restrictions is believed to bring disaster upon the taboo-breaker and their tribe. In an effort to avert that disaster, the pupils of class 3:3 include both Koichi and Mei in the taboo, trying to ensure they communicate only with each other. The nature of this disaster is an important aspect of Another, and has led to the film being characterised as a hybrid of Ring (1998) and Final Destination (2000). It’s an unfortunate description, because Another simply doesn’t have the budget to indulge in the kind of gloriously over-the-top set-pieces of mass destruction that punctuate the Final Destination movies; besides, the focus here is on a community driven to extremes of behaviour by fear.
Although the first third is deliberately paced, Another picks up tension and speed as fear of a violent death grips the members of class 3:3. While the danger is real and their fears understandable, it takes relatively little pressure for the class to turn malevolent, tyrannical and eventually murderous. This somewhat mean-spirited depiction of teenagers has been a feature of several recent Japanese horror films, such as Norio Tsuruta’s King’s Game (2011) and Jiro Nagae’s Kotsutsubo (2012). Thankfully, Another does not go quite as far as some of its contemporaries in this regard, allowing some of its characters to retain a reasonably clear head while their classmates prepare to lynch some poor unfortunate. The film’s final act is undeniably effective, however. Another never quite escapes from its influences, but it does at least manage to assert itself as an unusual, modestly creepy horror movie.