Starring Kôji Yakusho, Jun Fubuki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, Hikari Ishida, Kitarou
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
For anyone who doubts the awesome power of Japanese horror, get a load of this: Séance, the latest Kiyoshi Kurosawa release by Home Vision, was a "made-for-TV" movie back in 2000; yet, it still tops every big screen US horror effort of the past five years.
Based on Mark McShane's classic novel Séance on a Wet Afternoon (previously adapted for the screen in 1968), this new version follows Koji and Junko, an unhappily married couple living in middle-class Japan. Koji spends his days as a sound effects technician while Junko works as a part-time waitress and freelance psychic.
One afternoon a young girl is abducted from a playground, prompting a massive police search. The authorities approach Junko, asking her to use her abilities to locate the missing girl, but she is of little help – that is, until the escaped child shows up on her doorstep. Seeing this as an opportunity to abandon their boring lives, Koji and Junko imprison the girl in their home and decide to stage a fake rescue for the police, thus earning them fame and fortune. But things go terribly wrong in the process.
Most Japanese films are known for their subtle tricks, but as viewers of Pulse and Cure already know, Kurosawa is a filmmaker who likes to take things one step further. Instead of serving straight-up scares, his brooding tales are entirely cerebral in nature. It's true what they say: God is in the details. Kurosawa just demands that you be perceptive enough to see the details.
American horror movies normally use loud noises and claustrophobic settings, but Séance does the polar opposite, creating suspense through dead silence and wide open spaces. In a way, Kurosawa is the Japanese equivalent of Don't Look Now director Nicolas Roeg. But unlike Roeg, Kurosawa never loses sight of his story and retains a tight structure through the slow pace.
Also, unlike most art house filmmakers, Kurosawa subtly defines his characters through their actions and reactions rather than long gratuitous dialogue sequences. And while the plot in Séance is more straightforward than the director's other metaphysical films, fans are sure to be creeped out by the menacing atmosphere and trademark ghost imagery. There's even a bizarre sequence that paves the way for Kurosawa's horror-comedy Doppelganger.
A successful blend of drama and terror, Séance stands as another compelling effort from a master filmmaker and offers further proof that intelligent horror fans can still get their kicks courtesy of Japan.
Interview with director Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Kiyoshi Kurosawa Trailer Gallery: Charisma, Séance, and Cure
Liner Notes by film critic Gabe Klinger
4 out of 5