Beautiful Lure: A Modern Tale of Painted Skin (Japan, 2021)

An aspiring politician slowly learns there is much more to his new fiancée than he thought in this Japanese drama with supernatural overtones.

Maiko Yamamoto is a respected assistant to the vice-president of a bank. That’s her day job. At night, she works as a club hostess in the Ginza area. She has the intention of attracting men with money and power. When she meets Yuya Nagata, a well-respected businessman, she contemplates getting together with him. That is, until she meets Taro Shiomura, the son of Japan’s current prime minister who hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps. Maiko, knowing that Taro could potentially have all the power of ruling Japan, decides to choose Taro over Yuya.

As Taro and Maiko’s relationship is at first low-key, Maiko’s reputation is nearly tarnished when a bank worker catches her at her night job. But there is more to it. Maiko has the tendency to kill people with just a tap on the shoulder. As she continues to seduce Taro into eventually marrying her, Maiko’s true colors reveal something more. Taro learns from his childhood mentor, Katsuko Tachibana, that Maiko may be a “youma”, a nine-tailed fox demon disguised as a human who seduces men and she intends to use Taro to destroy Japan. When Taro slowly begins upon the realization, what will happen on their wedding day?

Based on a legend and brought to modern-day Japan, this drama has its share of supernatural horror but done in a subtle way rather than the Japanese horror films many Westerners are used to. When it comes to Japanese horror, one thinks of Takashi Miike and his gruesome gory style of bloodletting or even the insane world of films like Tokyo Gore Police and Meatball Machine. However, this film from director Hiroshi Akabane is tamer and has more deaths in a Death Note style if anything.

Nao Hasegawa churns out an excellent performance as Maiko Yamamoto, a woman holding two jobs who is more than meets the eye. From the moment you meet her, she may have some good intentions, but when she gives off a vibe through her smile, you know there’s more to it. Ryoma Ichihara is the aspiring politician who succumbs to her charms and finds himself enthralled in her infatuation. Their relationship is somewhat similar to that of Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate in terms of how a demonic force virtually forces their victim into submission until the revelation is finally shown to the victim. Whereas Pacino’s John Milton forces Reeves into a world full of greed, Hasegawa’s Maiko hopes to use Taro’s eventual power to do something far worse.

Yoshimi Ashikawa pulls off an impressive performance as Katsuko, Taro’s childhood mentor and spiritual guide who attempts to help Taro see the light when she reveals that his fiancée could actually be a “youma”, a nine-tailed fox demon disguised as a human that uses temptation as her weapon. In a cameo appearance, Yoshiko Sengen makes the most of her time as Kayo, Taro’s childhood friend who suspects the same when she thinks she sees a tail on Maiko when the couple visit’s Taro’s childhood home in the countryside.

The death scenes are pretty subtle and always involve Maiko tapping her victims on the shoulders. The result is the victim suffers a sort of heart attack with their skin turning a grey tone as they fall to their death. The final fifteen minutes of the film are a total mindbender as it looks like something that could have come out of meshing Journey to the West with something along the lines of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. As much as something like this should take away the film’s overall value due to its somewhat cheese VFX, it is just something that has to be seen and the final scene itself is pretty emotional despite the fact that we have a meshing of supernatural horror and drama.

Beautiful Lure: A Modern Tale of Painted Face is a pretty good film in the vein of something along the lines of Devil’s Advocate minus all the language and nudity and brutal violence. Instead, we have a tame supernatural horror-drama that is driven by some great performances by lead actors Nao Hasegawa and Ryoma Ichihara.

WFG RATING: A-

Random Media and Nikkatsu presents a Happy Science/IRH Press Co. Ltd. Production in association with New Star, ARI, and Django Film. Director: Hiroshi Akabane. Producers: Ryuho Okawa, Hisaaki Takeuchi, Naofumi Sato, Icuco Miura, Hidetoshi Momiyama, and Yoichi Utebi. Writer: Sayaka Okawa; story by Ryuho Okawa. Cinematography: Koichi Kimura. Editing: Takao Arai.

Cast: Nao Hasegawa, Ryoma Ichihara, Moro Morooka, Miho Yabe, Yoshimi Ashikawa, Ryota Nakanishi, David Ito, Yoshiko Sengen, Aya Sugimoto, Toshiyuki Nagashima.

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