Hana-Dama: The Origin Blu-ray Review

A disturbing Japanese horror movie about the consequences of bullying

Gonzo Japanese director Sato Hisayasu (Splatter: Naked Blood) gives us a disturbing horror movie in Hana-Dama: The Origin. The 2013 film is heavily inspired by popular anime tropes familiar to anyone watching more extreme Japanese entertainment. The script is highly reminiscent of out-there anime intended to shock and stun audiences with its emotional brutality. The audience is not meant to feel comfortable watching Hana-Dama: The Origin.

A high school student is mercilessly bullied by a group of mean girls, leading to the young woman literally sprouting a gigantic flower from her head that grants her dangerous powers. Starting out as a lurid teen drama, the plot keeps moving into darker and darker territory with its high school protagonists.

What begins as an emotionally dark teen thriller morphs into a violent blood bath by its end. There may be deeper themes to Hana-Dama: The Origin but it looks and feels like an exploitation film. Some elements are likely to upset Western audiences, including graphic rape sequences.

Transfer student Mizuki (Rina Sakuragi) is relentlessly bullied at her new high school by four incredibly mean girls. Her oblivious teacher ignores Mizuki’s plight. In one humiliating sequence, Mizuki is locked inside a school locker by them until she can’t hold her bladder any longer. Beyond the immediate humiliation, Mizuki is hiding a dark secret from her past that has led to turmoil and angst with her uncaring parents.

… it’s not very effective cinema, though it does feature epic amounts of blood and gore during the finale.

Another classmate named Kirie (Maika Shimamura), a sweetly innocent girl that comes off more as a junior high student than a high school student, befriends Mizuki in spite of the dangers siding with the ostracized girl. The two students quickly become targets for the vicious group of girls. The two girls become friendly with Shibauchi (Shun Asada), an outcast himself bullied by a different group, two adult faculty members that like messing with the wayward youth. The three are forced together as a band of outsiders by shared circumstance. The consequences of bullying and the emotional toll it takes on everyone are explored in detail.

Hana-Dama: The Origin is a dark, violent thriller that hits many of the clichés seen in Japanese high school settings. It deals with rape, sexual violence, suicide and extreme bullying in a graphic manner. Mizuki is an emotionally twisted, tortured protagonist. Having turned off her feelings to shield herself from the pain, Mizuki purposely burns herself with cigarettes. Her anguish drives the plot, leading to a ridiculous finale that comes out of nowhere. After a series of devastating events, Mizuki becomes fully possessed by a spirit that literally sprouts from her head.

The last twenty minutes are a maelstrom of chaotic madness, undercutting the preceding drama of the first ninety minutes. It is a tonal shift often seen in low-budget Japanese cinema. In this case it’s not very effective cinema, though it does feature epic amounts of blood and gore during the finale. If you ever wanted to see a post-apocalyptic death orgy of sex and blood inside a Japanese classroom, Hana-Dama: The Origin is your movie.

Movie ★★★☆☆

Hana-Dama Blu-ray screen shot 2

Like many recent, low-budget Japanese films, Hana-Dama: The Origin has been shot with cheaper digital cameras that don’t lead to extraordinary resolution or clarity. This is dull, ugly digital video with flat depth and occasional aliasing.

Olive Films present the 2013 movie as it was likely created but the video quality is rather poor by 2016 Blu-ray standards. The 106-minute main feature is encoded in a messy AVC video encode averaging 20 Mbps, found on a BD-25. Compression artifacts are apparent a number of times, including chroma noise and banding. The main feature is shown at its native 1.78:1 aspect ratio in 1080i resolution. That is likely the resolution Hana-Dama: The Origin was filmed, a common video standard in cheaper Japanese cinema.

The picture quality lacks that crisp high-definition essence we’ve come to expect from new productions made this decade. Independent cinema in Japan hasn’t completely adopted the newer digital cameras so readily available in the United States. This video looks okay in well-lit exteriors but offers problems in its black levels, contrast and color saturation. It was filmed in HD but its dull cinematography is rather lacking. Expect an underwhelming Hi-Def experience.

Video★★☆☆☆

The original Japanese soundtrack is heard in an ordinary 2.0 DTS-HD MA selection. The dialogue-driven horror film sounds fine until it’s pushed to its limit by the extremely annoying sound effects that characterize the mysterious flower growth. The harsh noise is mixed far too loud in the mix. There isn’t much else to complain about. Dialogue is cleanly intelligible with average fidelity.

Optional English subtitles display in a white font.

Audio ★★★☆☆

This is a combo package that includes the film on both Blu-ray and DVD in a regular Blu-ray case. Olive Films includes a flyer for their catalog of products.

All the bonus features are in Japanese with English subtitles provided.

Backstage Featurette (14:37 in HD) – Go behind the scenes in this extended featurette that includes footage from the set and interviews with key cast members. This is a freewheeling documentary that touches on several different scenes being filmed. Most fascinating is that it explicitly shows director Sato Hisayasu giving instructions to his cast on what he wants in each scene.

Interview With Director Sato Hisayasu and Cast (20:02 in HD) – Rina Sakuragi, Maika Shimamura and Shun Asada give interviews, mostly discussing their experiences with bullying and their impressions of the movie. Sato Hisayasu goes into the production background of the film, citing the events of 9/11 as the first inspiration behind it. It took him years to make his idea reality due to a number of factors.

Hana-Dama: The Origin Trailer (02:00 in HD)

Extras★★☆☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been manipulated in any way during the process.