Rumiko Takahashi regularly infuses her contemporary manga stories with abundant elements from traditional Japanese culture. Often this was done for comic effect, as in "Ranma ½" and "Urusei Yatsura," but in the one-shot made-for-video animated film, "The Laughing Target" (1987), it's done as a genuinely chilling horror tale, as Yuzuru, a Tokyo high school boy, suddenly finds himself living under the same roof with Azusa, the mysterious cousin to whom he was betrothed as a child, as seen in flashback, and who has just moved in from the country, where she was raised in a traditional household. Her arrival at Yuzuru's home follows the death of her mother, her only other immediate family member, under strange circumstances. He hasn't seen Azusa in many years and is startled to find that she's grown into a tall, breathtaking, pale-skinned beauty with long dark hair. He hasn't given a thought to the childhood arrangement and has a loyal girlfriend named Satomi, his short-haired partner in the school's archery club. Azusa, however, has never forgotten the betrothal and is intent on going through with the arranged marriage. She warns Satomi to stay away from Yuzuru and follows up the warning with some very insistent behavior, stalking and terrorizing Satomi in various ways. Things get even scarier when Azusa's threats start to get backed up by a demonic force residing in her which can get quite destructive.
I like the way the whole thing is carefully laid out for us. In fact, we initially feel some sympathy for Azusa and might be forgiven if we actually think Yuzuru should live up to his familial obligation and agree to marry her. However, because of the 50-minute length, the gears shift a little too suddenly and we have no choice but to root for Yuzuru and Satomi as they are increasingly endangered. I found the characters compelling enough for a 90-minute movie and wish more time had been spent developing them, to the point of crafting a plausible romantic triangle to test audience loyalties, before Azusa's darker side erupts. Takahashi's imagination is well up to the task of filling out such a story.
I saw this film on a VHS tape from U.S. Manga Corps in a Japanese-language edition with English subtitles. Ever since that company went out of business, this production has been out of print in the U.S.
One more thing: I don't understand why it's titled "The Laughing Target." Satomi is indeed a target, but I don't recall her ever laughing. At least not enough to justify such a title.