That Was A Surprise …


Booth is a Japanese horror film about a radio show host. He’s famous; he knows that he’s famous. He believes, therefore, that he’s more important than the not-famous people around him. He’s overbearing and uncaring toward his staff and to the women in his life. He feels entitled to do exactly as he pleases without worrying about others’ feelings or any obligation he might have.

But it’s a horror movie, so of course he ends up in the radio booth that everyone says is haunted. We learn about a strange force – a vengeful woman’s spirit – that drives the men who come into the booth to suicide. The radio host doesn’t believe in anything like that, and is only irritated that he has to move from his regular booth. He’s also irritated about events earlier in the day – a quarrel with one of his female producers who had thought she and the radio host had a relationship, and who was justifiably angry to learn that she had meant nothing to him.

Having watched a hundred Asian horror films, I expected the ordinary conventions involving copious amounts of long black hair, fake outs in mirrors, weird noises emanating from ghostly white faces, and “bad guys” that had angered the spirits of the dead. But Booth really doesn’t have any of those. It has weird noises, but they’re linked to the day’s earlier events. It has dark corners, but nothing ever jumps out of them. The radio host experiences strange things, but most of them aren’t supernatural – he’s simply being worn down mentally by a series of inconveniences and little troubles, until he’s no longer capable of maintaining any kind of equanimity … basically, he’s being chased to a place where he has to look at himself and his actions, and see what he’s been to others.

And when his darkest secrets are revealed to the audience, the horror turns out to be not other-worldly, but instead rooted squarely in the radio host’s faults, failings, and insensitivity.

Unfortunately, since it is a horror film, the characters are not allowed to enjoy the benefits of having learned their lessons the way they might in the real world. But Booth is an excellent study in human nature, human weakness, and psychological self-torment. In fact, the more conventional horror frame-story is almost a distraction, a way to spare the radio host from having to face the more frightening consequences of being his real self in front of other human beings. But even that distraction is an unconventional horror – by offering that escape from real-world consequences, it also robs him of the gift of true success, of having everything he had sought when he first decided to become famous.

It turns out everyone around him liked him just fine, but he was too scared to see it.

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