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Premonition (2004)

In general, movie producers have little bearing on the artistic quality of a film. Unless, of course, you’re talking about Taka Ichise. Put in any great Japanese horror film, and odds are you’ll usually find his name buried somewhere in the credits. From Ring to Ju-on, Ichise has undoubtedly been the dominant force behind the current Asian horror movement.

While Mick Garris preps his ambitious Showtime cable series, Ichise has already assembled his own “masters of horror,” which includes the talents of Hideo Nakata, Takashi Shimizu, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The project, dubbed “J-Horror Theater,” is a series of six genre films designed to stoke the fires of international horror. Premonition, the second title in the series (after Masayuki Ochiai’s Infection) is directed by Norio Tsuruta, who previously helmed the excellent Ring 0: Birthday.

During a family trip father Hideki Satomi stumbles across a newspaper article containing the obituary of his young daughter. Shortly afterwards a freak accident occurs, and he witnesses her horrible demise, which coincides with the article’s description. Three years later, the grieving Hideki becomes haunted by the appearance of more newspaper clippings, all of which foretell disaster. As his sanity unravels and the walls of reality crumble, Hideki tries to discover the source of these eerie signs and prevent future tragedies.

Asian cinema fans can breathe a sigh of relief: Premonition is a great example of the mature, slow-burn approach that has made international horror so popular over the years. At the same time, Tsuruta and Ichise wisely avoid the typical “vengeful ghost” formula that has been so evident in recent Ring and Ju-on knock-offs. In fact, the whole thing more or less plays out like an atmospheric episode of The Twilight Zone.

Using style *and* substance, Tsuruta effectively tells an involving mystery with a cast of sympathetic characters. However, unlike its J-horror kin, the film doesn’t communicate its scares through imagery. Instead, the intensity comes from the actual situations, while the subtle use of ambient sound design delivers most of the chills (will Hollywood ever learn?).

There are a few minor flaws: Actor Hiroshi Mikami occasionally hams it up, and the film’s ending is fairly predictable. But overall Premonition nicely showcases the strengths of Asian horror while putting recent big screen efforts to shame (not that it’s difficult right now). For those burned out on hairy ghosts and death curses, this is a creepy and refreshing alternative.

Premonition (2004)
(Lion Gate Films Home Entertainment)
Directed by Norio Tsuruta
Starring Daisuke Ban, Maki Horikita, Hana Inoue, Hiroshi Mikami, Mayumi Ono, Noriko Sakai


3 ½ out of 5

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Comments

Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.