Reviewed by Andrew Kasch
Starring Masanobu Ando, Yoshio Harada, Hitomi, Ryuhei Matsuda
Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto
Distributed by Dimension Extreme
Aside from a few shining examples, the talent in Japan seems to be running dry these days. Over-saturation of the Eastern style (now co-opted by Hollywood movie moguls) seems to have taken its toll, and you have only to hop on some Asian-dedicated website or message board to find everyone popping the same old question: Is J-horror finally dead?
Not as long as Shinya Tsukamoto is around. Often referred to as “the Japanese Cronenberg” (which is a bit of a slap to his originality), the cult movie maestro broke through the indie gamut with the mind-bending flesh-metal fusion that was Tetsuo: The Iron Man and, after nearly two decades, continues to work at the top of his game as an actor/director.
His latest, Nightmare Detective, concerns a rash of bizarre sleep-suicides. Rookie detective Keiko Kirishima (Hitomi) is on the case and soon discovers each victim dialed the phone number of the mysterious “0” (Tsukamoto, back in front of the camera), a vicious killer who can invade the dreams of others. Unable to discover his whereabouts, authorities enlist the help of the reluctant “Nightmare Detective” (Ryuhei Matsuda) – a tortured recluse with the same supernatural abilities. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game waged through both the real and the dream world.
Conceptually, it may sound like some unrealized sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street, but every frame of this is pure unfiltered Tsukamoto. When last we left the director, he delved through the flesh to tackle matters of the soul in Vital Vital (review here), and Detective is a grim extension of the same themes. Here he addresses the dark side of existentialism with a cast of moody characters who constantly question their nature for being and go to huge extremes to escape their torment. Naturally blood and flesh fly in all directions and there’s plenty of hyper-surrealism to go around, but this is also one of Tsukamoto’s more narrative-driven features. While the story is fairly straightforward stuff, the script is peppered with introspective moments and multiple layers that effectively turn a standard supernatural killer film into something far more cerebral.
Detective is perhaps Tsukamoto’s moodiest film to date. The overall look and tone are on par with Fincher’s Se7en with dark corridors and shadows that seem to take on a life of their own. There’s plenty of the director’s visceral camera work, and the dream sequences showcase the most menacing POV photography since Sam Raimi first unleashed The Evil Dead. By the time the third act rolls around, the film enters into a surreal “cage match of the minds” between hero and villain, and it’s an all-out assault on the senses and the brain.
The supplemental material is very much on the skimpy side with only a short making-of featurette, but don’t let that stop you from picking up this DVD ASAP!
Amazingly, this is the first Tsukamoto film to break the 90-minute mark, but it remains as tight and enthralling as anything he’s made. Showcasing every one of the director’s unique sensibilities, Nightmare Detective is an intense avant-garde mystery that is both another thrill for long-time fans and a perfect introduction for newcomers.
4 out of 5
2 out of 5
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