Kaidan Project emphasizes the surreal and the strange to create a truly creepy immersive experience.
Kaidan Project Review: J-Horror meets Delusion
We hate catchy, reductive headlines, but there's no way to avoid the parallel between Rogue Artists Ensemble's Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin and Delusion: A Haunted Play - if only to note the contrast as well as the comparison. Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin is another interactive theatrical horror story staged in a real venue, combining elements of a Halloween haunted house with the dramaturgy of a stage play performed up close and personal. However, the emphasis and approach are quite different. Whereas Delusion showcases amazing stunts and effects to deliver the visceral punch of a Hollywood horror movie, Kaidan Project emulates the narrative forms and artistic tropes of Japanese ghost stories. (A copy of Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Rampo - Japanese author Tarō Hirai's nom de plume is the phonetic equivalent of Edgar Allan Poe - clues you in to Kaidan Project's sources of inspiration, and the execution follows suit.)
It would be an exaggeration to call Kaidan Project a Kabuki play, but highly stylized elements, such as Kabuki makeup, are incorporated, along with puppetry and shadow play. These affectations are far from realistic, but they serve the story by evoking a shadowy spirit realm that stands in contrast to the realism of the location. The play is grounded in a (literally) concrete world - set and staged in an actual warehouse; however, this believable frame of reference is soon overwhelmed when the fantastical elements emerge, eclipsing reality and immersing the audience in an alternative dreamscape.
After that, it's anything goes.
Kaidan Project Review: Synopsis
The narrative of Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin starts when you receive a letter from Mori Storage, asking for your assistance in finding owner Kana Mori (your friend), who has been missing for six weeks. At the warehouse, employees tell you strange tales of Kana's obsessive behavior before her disappearance, including a fascination with kitsune, a vengeful, nine-tailed fox spirit of Japanese legend. One employee, a self-proclaimed psychic, insists Kana is still alive, lurking somewhere on the premises....
Eventually, you and eleven other "friends" are led into Kana's office, which is filled with bizarre clues (bones, sutras), not to mention a security monitor that may provide a glimpse of something preternatural. The phone rings; you answer; it's Kana, telling you to "trust who is coming" - a silent, masked figure who arrives by elevator and takes you to an upper floor. Soon you encounter an angry ghost, warning you to give up your quest and revealing an ancient story, seen projected at the end of the tunnel, about a woman raped and murdered and tossed down a well, who rose from death as a kitsune to take her revenge. When she suddenly appears in the flesh, you realize that the "tunnel" is actually a well, and she is climbing the wall to get to you...
Then Kana appears to guide you through a frantic series of scenes: spectral figures pursue you down dark corridors; a man murders his wife so he could have another woman, only to find himself in the arms of his wife's corpse; in a particularly bizarre moment, a television director forces Kana to film a commercial for "Red Vengeance." In a moment of respite, Kana reveals that her problem stems from a childhood encounter with a kitsune, which has haunted her the rest of her life. Eventually, with your help, she gathers the items needed for a ritual to exorcise the angry spirit, but can its rage ever be fully contained?
When all is done, you return to the real world, with no clear answer for the Mori employees wondering whether you managed to find and rescue Kana...
Kaidan Project Review: Analysis
Unlike the relay-team approach of Delusion, in which the audience is passed like a baton from one character to the next, Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin keeps Kana Mori at the center of the action for most of the 75-minute running time, creating a stronger narrative arc, with a clear protagonist leading the way. At first glance, the individual episodes do not always seem relevant to her story, but closer examination reveals their significance. For example, the story of the well, with its flashback to feudal Japan, reveals the origin of the immortal kitsune that has bedeviled Kana most of her life.
Even the tongue-in-cheek commercial makes sense: it's a spoof of product placement and a sly comment on the nature of the story. Kana is instructed to hold a beverage can while saying, "I'll die without my Red Vengeance," and the phrase subtly refers both to the drink and to the vengeance at the heart of her story. While she asks the director to explain her motivations - how she came to be in a situation where she must have "red vengeance" - he dismisses her questions, saying they don't matter. This is precisely the situation with the kitsune. In American ghost stories, we assume the vengeful spirit will target its malefactor only; in Japanese legends, vengeful spirits may attack anyone and everyone that crosses their path, memories and motivations lost in time, only the need for mindless revenge remaining. And on a much simpler level, this modern scene is such weirdly enjoyable anomaly within a traditional ghost story, its high-energy vibe providing a much-needed contrast to the quieter interludes.
The ghastly bits of action in Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin are presented in artsy ways that eschew graphic representation without minimizing the emotional resonance: murders are shown in silhouettes or depicted by puppets projected on a screen - leaving no doubt about what happened, sparing the grizzly details almost makes the details more disturbing. When creatures do appear, they tend to remain in shadows or keep their distance; the stylized designs are imaginative, but they may not withstand close scrutiny - until the finale, which features a manifestation as spectacular as the giant asp in the "Thoth's Labyrinth" episode of this year's Wicked Lit Halloween Theatre Festival.
There is a little bit of confusion during the quiet moments, when you and Kana's other friends are invited to explore some rooms representing her childhood memories. Having been admonished at the start of the show not to move or touch anything without express permission, it's not clear how much latitude has been afforded to open drawers, rewind videotapes, or even initiate conversations. (Our sit-down tea with Kana felt like an improv skit that went nowhere - were we supposed to ask questions or simply wait for her to dismiss us so we could explore other rooms?)
Regarding the issue of audience passivity, we should note that paying attention to the clues will help you make sense of and enjoy the story, but it is not necessary to resolve the mystery. Even if you forget the early allusion to ingredients needed for the final ritual, Kana will instruct you to acquire what is necessary.
Kaidan Project Review: Conclusion
With its highly artificial approach to depicting the supernatural, Kaidan Project: Walls Fall Thin delivers little in the way of jump-scares or crude shocks, though there are several shuddery moments of suspense while being pursued or threatened by barely glimpsed things in the dark.
Instead, Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin weaves a clever spell, using basic tricks such as audience identification with a sympathetic protagonist to lull Kana's "friends" into following her down the rabbit hole - or should we say 'down the kitsune well?' Some of the plot points are hammered a bit too repetitiously (we're reminded about that kitsune a lot, often without learning anything new about it), but the story remains engrossing, and the climax is stunning - a satisfying resolution with just enough of an ominous hint to induce a final frisson on your way out.
As you ride back down the elevator, returning to the normal world, you may realize that your time among the spirits has been marked by few if any screams. Yet the uncanny disquietude of your journey has slowly, imperceptibly crept into yourimagination, where it lingers like the kitsune that attached itself to Kana's soul - a feeling of horror both subtle and profound.
Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin continues through November 19 with performances on Thursdays and Sundays at 7:30pm, 7:50pm, 8:10pm, 8:45pm, 9:05pm and on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, 7:50pm, 8:10pm, 8:45pm, 9:05pm, 9:25pm. Performance Run Time: 75-80 minutes. 18 & over only. The location is a mid-city warehouse in Los Angeles, address revealed with ticket purchase. The website is: rogueartists.org/kaidan-project.
More in this series:
- Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin Review
- Kaidan Project's Kana Quartet