Life Choices: 5 things to check out this week

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Your weekly recommendations on what to watch, read, and listen to. Illustrated by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — This week’s recommendations include a T.V. series treatment of a legacy J-horror franchise, three remarkable K-pop releases, a horror manga take on our relationship with pets, a Spanish film program for the weekends, and a film about renting family members.

T.V. Show: “Ju-On: Origins” (Netflix)

The “Ju-On” franchise hasn’t been “Ju-On” since it came out in the '00s. The hallmark of the J-horror franchise has slipped into parody status since the original director Takashi Shimizu bowed out of the film series. His last in the director’s chair was the hollywood version of “The Grudge 2.” Kayako and Toshio just won’t die — and that’s been one of the strengths of the franchise — believe me. The idea of evil that is relentless and cyclical has set “Ju-On” apart from its Asian horror contemporaries. Then, the succeeding films became a repository for jump scares. Even this year’s reboot/sidequel by Nicolas Pesce was a minor blip in the franchise’s radar. But now comes the Netflix series “Ju-On: Origins.”

Technically speaking, the six-episode show is not directly related to the film franchise and that might be a blessing. It doesn’t have the baggage of continuing the jump-scare spree by Kayako and Toshio — although their “spirits” are present in many of the characters. The set-up is the same though: a cursed house murders anyone who steps in it, even if it’s just a cute guy wanting to find a house for his fiancée-to-be. As is the norm in Ju-On, the stories in the six episodes occur in different timelines, from 1988 to 1998 and even as far back as the 1950s. Be warned: “Ju-On: Origins” isn’t stacked with ghosts or disembodied parts appearing out of nowhere, but it is replete with blood, guts, and gore. It was not what I signed up for. Within the first two episodes — spoiler-y things ahead —, there’s a rape, infanticide, and plenty of murder using ordinary household objects.

The T.V. treatment is a boon for “Ju-On.” It manages to lay out a complicated timeline within six 30-minute episodes and provides a better understanding of the evil that forms the core of Ju-On. The timelines often intersect and bleed into each other, like a house of deathly mirrors. The witness to all of this is a paranormal researcher who may or may not be involved in the original murder in the accursed house. “Ju-On” also places these events within the context of the real world — from the Chernobyl incident to the subway sarin attack in 1995. So whether it’s imagined or not, death is really just around the corner.

Film: “Family Romance, LLC” (dir. Werner Herzog)

“I put ‘LLC’ in the title because romance has become a business in Japan,” says director Werner Herzog, as he introduced his latest film “Family Romance, LLC” on Mubi. The film may be a minor work from a filmmaker who has an expansive catalog (from the epic “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” to an odd Nicholas Cage-starrer “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”) but it presents an interesting scenario: what if everyone in your life — your family, friends, and romantic partners — are just hired actors?

In Japan, as Herzog mentioned, the hiring of “actors” to pretend as someone’s father, husband, etc. is a common practice (there’s an entire New Yorker piece on this industry). The reasons for renting a person are varied: someone feels lonely, someone is ashamed of a family member, or someone just needs company. Herzog brings his signature blurring of fact and fiction in “Family Romance, LLC.” The film is shot guerrilla-style around Japan and features the actual owner of Family Romance as the lead. It’s a fascinating study on relationships and authenticity. Despite the distance (and to some extent, absurdity) of the subject matter, it’s closer to home than you think.

Stream on Mubi for a limited time.

Graphic novel: “Yon & Mu” by Junji Ito

Part-self parody, part love letter, and part cat menagerie, Junji Ito’s “Yon and Mu” is a — let’s face it — cute look into our relationship with pets. Trust a master of horror manga to flesh out the mundane parts of capturing the heart of cats. J-kun and his fiancée A-ko just moved into a new house. It is a big deal for J-kun. Suddenly, A-ko wants to invite housemates, a Norwegian forest cat, Mu, and one of A-ko’s family cats, Yon. J-kun, an admitted dog person, struggles to find order in this new household, especially when he finds out that he’s outranked by these felines when it comes to attention from A-ko. Eventually, J-kun finds himself succumbing to the cuteness (or power) of Yon and Mu.

The book is, as a review mentioned, as close as an autobiography that we can get from the horror manga master. In between chapters, Ito answers questions from fans, which adds more comedy to the proceedings. As a fan of Ito’s more mind-bending, terrifying work, “Yon and Mu” reveals a more humane side to his oeuvre.

Available at Fully Booked. 

New K-Pop releases: “Left and Right” (Seventeen), “Monster” (Red Velvet - Irene and Seulgi), and “Telephone” (EXO-SC)

K-Pop is still the gift that keeps on giving. Three recent releases from established acts remind us how the K-Pop wheelhouse can be overturned and reimagined in a matter of months. In late June, the 13-member group Seventeen released their seventh mini-album "Heng:garae," their first since their agency Pledis was acquired by Big Hit Entertainment (the company behind BTS). "Heng:garae” proved to be a massive success for Seventeen, selling over 1 million copies during the first week of release. This brings a massive boost to the group. The lead single “Left and Right” (which currently has 43 million views on YouTube) is a propulsive banger that’s, personally, a serious contender for Song of the Year.

This week, two groups on hiatus released singles from members. Red Velvet’s Irene and Seulgi with “Monster” and EXO’s Sehun and Chanyeol with “Telephone.” “Monster” seems to continue the goth themes of the group’s previous single “Psycho.” Judging from stan Twitter’s reaction to “Monster,” it is a satisfying comeback, especially after a forced break due to a member’s accident onstage.

EXO-SC, on the other hand, drops a bright, sunshiny bop with “Telephone” (featuring the duo 10cm, who has contributed to the soundtrack of “Crash Landing on You”). Spot Sehun and Chanyeol sporting Blackberry phones in the music video, which is a cheeky play on the potential of smartphones to destroy relationships. It’s a fun antidote to the coming rainy days (or just, you know, 2020).

Stream the songs on Spotify.

Film program: Cine club Película at the Instituto Cervantes de Manila

Full disclosure: I was part of the panel that discussed the first film in the Cine club Película series of the Instituto Cervantes de Manila and the Embassy of Spain (it was Victor Erice’s “The Spirit of the Beehive”). The one comment from the audience struck me was how beneficial this event was for fans of Spanish films — or anyone who wants to watch Spanish movies — who do not live in Manila. The films are now more accessible (if only for a weekend and granted you have a decent internet connection) for those who are interested in attending the film screenings (usually at the Instituto in Makati).

The next films to be screened are "The Holy Innocents" by Mario Camus, "The South" by Victor Erice, "The Lucky Star" by Ricardo Franco, and "The Heifer" by Luis García Berlanga. These films, made from the 70s to the 80s, place Spain in different narratives and contexts, which makes for a great jump off point in scrutinizing the canon of Spanish cinema.

You can check out the panel discussion, moderated by Jessica Zafra, on “The Spirit of the Beehive” here. For future screenings, check out the event page on Facebook.