Kiyoshi Kurosawa's unsettling, impressively performed thriller lives up to its title
Japan's Kiyoshi Kurosawa directed a J-horror classic in 2001's groundbreaking Pulse (Kairo), an unnerving twist on internet fears and social psychology that evoked David Lynch with its scary rooms, flickering lights and ambient noise tremors. His latest depth-charged thriller isn't as ingenious, but it keeps the sure-handed work up. Rejecting shocks in favour of Hitchcockian suspense, Kurosawa mixes warped satire, murky psychologies and Lynchian surrealism to sustain a clammy sense of unease; no mean feat over 130 minutes.
Adapting Yutaka Maekawa's novel, Kurosawa ensures his film grips from the prologue, where a debate about morality between a killer and a cop, Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima), turns lethal fast. A shift into slow-burn mode follows as Takakura takes a quiet college job and moves with his anxious wife Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi) to the suburbs, but mysteries soon emerge. What's up with weird neighbour Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa), a man driven to tetchy paroxysms by the mere gift of chocolate? And what's up with the cold case Takakura agrees to help on? Could the plot strands be linked?
It takes a big squeeze of coincidence to glue them together, but Kurosawa's stylishly controlled navigation of teasing undercurrents excuses most hiccups. As ominous winds, creeping camerawork and inexplicably darkening rooms unsettle our certainties, themes of blind obsession and banal evil deepen our engagement.
Even when the climax takes a turn for the overwrought (clues: subterranean dens and gratuitous shrink-wrap), Kurosawa gets away with it because the route there is plotted with care. Suggestive performances from the leads maximise the ambiguity-driven tension; while Nishijima hints at dark urges within Takakura, Takeuchi does a lot with limited screen-time as Yasuko's emotional enigmas become pivotal. But the show-stealer is him next door: Kagawa's simpering malevolence fulfils the title's promise right up to his last, sly leer.
Selected release from Fri 25 Nov.