A creepy triumph of sheer entertainment over technical flaws.
When I was given the chance to review this film, I thought it’d be a great idea to watch it, and review it, in conjunction with my girlfriend, Harumi. We love watching films together anyway, she’s been getting more and more into horror and thrillers, and she’s Japanese. Perfect combo, then, and the reason behind this double-trouble review.
Before we go into the review, proper, I want to address something: both Haru and I feel that they have given away too much of the plot in the press release and trailer. Mio’s confession to Takakura in both the trailer and the press release break a lot of the tension of the first half of the movie, almost revealing Nishino’s full personality. It would have been a fantastic discovery had we made it on our own while watching the film.
Please, don’t reveal too much in trailers! We want to enjoy the writing!
Now, onto the review.
Synopsis: a retired police detective-turned-university professor must go back to his former persona in order to unravel the mystery surrounding his creepy neighbor, all while trying to solve disappearances along the way.
Our first impressions were not good: the dialog felt unpolished, as if it was a draft of what will eventually become a screenplay. The opening scene had sub-par acting (although it was from a character who dies within 5 minutes). I also didn’t much care for the color correction in the film, as it looked too much like video for my taste. I was alone in this, though, as Haru said she didn’t mind (and, in her own charming way, implied that I shouldn’t care, either).
But then, something strange happened to both of us: we couldn’t get our eyes off the screen.
Teruyuki Kagawa’s perfomance as Mr. Nishino (the creepy neighbor) began to get under our skins, and the plot points started to make us think “Who is he, really? Is he nice? Is he evil? Who will he be to him/her now?”
Nishino’s character is quite odd, bizarre and almost bipolar in his fluctuation, with mannerisms and rude-to-nice changes on the fly, which combine with a powerful performance to deliver a fantastically powerful acting punch.
Another highlight for us was Ryoko Fujino’s Mio, a character whose motivations and intentions are a constant and satisfying puzzle.
Hidetoshi Nishijima’s lead role as Detective Takakura is well executed and wonderfully acted, but while plot points helped move the character along, his dialog and motivations were not as fleshed out as we wanted them to be. Yuko Takeuchi was also a treat to watch on screen as the dutiful wife of Detective-Turned-Professor Takakura, and her later involvement in a macabre turn of events was extremely satisfying, if a bit confusing.
That’s a common thread throughout the film: confusion. While it can definitely help carry the tension from opening credits to end roll, there are too many secondary plot points that remain unresolved by the end of the feature, frustrating both Haru and I and leaving us wondering what happened to these characters or actions.
The score is minimal but adequate, providing support to the tension on the screen. Again, I have to say that I’m not a fan of the coloring in the film, but a lot of Asian features have this look and it didn’t detract from the experience, so maybe I’m just spoiled. The cinematography is nothing to write home about (although it did its job well), but some of the camera operation is punching way above the budget (specially some of the SteadyCam footage).
The dialog might be the weakest link in this creepy chain, however. Forced at times, when it needed to provide details about changes in the lives of the characters. In other instances, just plain odd and silly. Having the benefit of Haru’s Japanese-translation-on-the-go, I can say that it’s not an issue with the translation, but rather with the source material itself.
When it’s all said and done, though, we really enjoyed the film. We had fun. It was entertaining, captivating and for the most part, very well executed. Just to give you an idea of how much we liked the film: we had issues with the streaming, and this 2-hour film took us 3 and a half hours to watch (it kept buffering… thank you, Paraguayan Internet). We didn’t mind.
While you can get hung up on technical issues with a movie, and nitpick the dialog and tear apart performances, this is a film that aims to entertain. And it does so wonderfully well.
My Score: 4/5
Haru’s Score: 4.5/5