Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Japan, 1955) debuted with the horror movies
Sweet Home (1989) and
The Guard from Underground (1992), followed by the
slapstick series Suit Yourself or Shoot Yourself (1996),
The thriller Kyua/ Cure (1997) imagines a modern Mesmer with a passion
for murdering innocents. The suspense is Hitchcock-ian: there is no need
for bloody scenes, it's enough to hint at what happens.
The ending is deliberately not clear. It is not clear who kills the protagonist's wife (that was a burden to him) and whether a new murder is about to be
committed in the last scene (in which case it would mean that there is another
Mesmer on the loose).
A woman, Fumie, is reading the fairy tale of Bluebeard in a mental hospital.
She discusses it with her psychologist.
An ordinary man walks into a room, grabs a pipe and kills a woman, showing no particular emotion.
The inspector in charge of the investigation, Takabe, is puzzled: the man left his id next to the murdered prostitute. They find him hiding naked in a closet.
The man is terrified and doesn't know why he did what he did.
After killing her, he also carved an X on her body.
It is not the first such murder in which the murderer didn't have an explanation for the murder, surrendered peacefully and marked the victim with an "X".
A man is enjoying the beach when a stranger approaches him. The stranger sounds
delirious and seems to have lost his memory.
The man takes the stranger home and tries to help him. The stranger can't
remember his name (his jacket says Mamiya), has no idea which day it is, and where he is.
On the other hand, the stranger likes to ask questions, particularly after
lighting his lighter.
Meanwhile, Takabe returns home and we see that Fumie is his wife, mentally ill.
The following morning the man of the beach jumps from the window of his house,
trying to kill himself. He has killed his wife, for no apparent reason, and
is desperate. He can't remember why he did it, just that it felt natural to do it, and doesn't remember Mamiya.
The following day the amnesiac, Mamiya, is sitting on a floor. A cop sees him
and tries to rescue him but Mamiya jumps. The cop takes the injured Mamiya to
his tiny police station, planning to deliver him to the hospital in the morning.
Again, Mamiya doesn't remember anything about himself but likes to ask questions, and at one point turns on his lighter. This time we see that he hypnotizes the cop.
Takabe begins to suspect hypnosis after taking to his friend, psychologist Sakuma.
Meanwhile, a frigid female doctor is examining a patient.
Takabe is called to the tiny police station where the cop coldly killed a fellow cop, again for no apparent reason, again carving an X on his neck.
Meanwhile, Fumie is lost on a bridge, uncertain where to go. At the mental clinic, she chats with her doctor: when he mentions Bluebeard and shows her the
book that she was reading, she claims that she never heard of Bluebeart and never saw that book. She is losing her memory, just like Mamiya.
Mamiya is taken to the hospital of the frigid female doctor. As usual, he tells
her that he remembers nothing and starts asking her questions. Somehow he knows
that she had never seen a naked man before she was asked to dissect a corpse,
and that she enjoyed cutting up the male body. He hypnotizes her and leaves
a big X on the wall.
Takabe interrogates the cop who, again, has trouble remembering the amnesiac.
The frigid doctor kills a man in the bathroom and proceeds to dissect the corpse.
Takabe and Sakuma finally realize that somehow Mamiya is connected with the murders. Takabe finds him hiding in a dark room and the two engage in a mental duel:
Mamiya starts asking questions and tries to hypnotize Takabe, but Takabe
simply get angrier and angrier.
Takabe discovers Mamiya's name and address, and inspects his home. The landlord
tells him that Mamiya hasn't been seen in six months. Takabe finds many books
of psychology and several on hypnotism, in particular Mesmer's books.
At home he has trouble with his wife. One time she is lost and he finds her.
Another time he is the one who seems to be going mad: he comes home and sees
his wife dead, hanging from the ceiling, but it is just a hallucination.
Takabe confronts Mamiya again, and again it's a mental duel between Mamiya who
tries to ask question instead of answering questions, and Takabe who suspects
him of having hypnotized all the murderers.
Takabe has Mamiya taken to the police station. During another meeting, Mamiya
reveals that he knows that Takabe saw his wife dead, that Takabe's life
has been poisoned by his wife's illness, and tries again to
psychoanalyze Takabe, All he gets is that Takabe admits his struggle with
his wife's illness.
Even when Mamiya is taken in front of a group of
psychologists, he answers questions with other questions. His favorite question
is "why are you?" which, repeated enough times, causes people to start thinking
about the deeper meaning of it.
Mamiya's pressure (he keeps trying to make Takabe talk about his mentally disabled wife, clearly trying to hypnotize him and make him kill his wife) convinces
Takabe to move his wife permanently in the clinic, where she will be safe.
When they board the bus, she thinks they are going on a vacation.
When Takabe drops his wife at the hospital, her doctor tells him that he looks
sicker than her.
Mamiya is now a patient in Sakuma's mental hospital and Sakuma is keen to study him.
Sakuma tells Takabe about Mesmer. They watch a century-old video of hypnotism
and see a man making an X in front of the victim.
Takabe knows that Mamiya is a former student of psychology and suspects that he has become a master of hypnotism
Sakuma too visits Mamiya's place and begins to have hallucinations.
Takabe sees a big X on a wall of Sakuma's apartment.
An earthquake shakes the mental hospital and Mamiya escapes.
Sakuma is found dead: he hanged himself after handcuffing himself to a steel bar, as if to make sure he couldn't kill anyone.
Takabe finds Mamiya in an abandoned building that used to be a mental hospital
a century earlier.
Mamiya implies that Takabe let him escape on purpose, to learn his secret.
Mamiya is beginning again his routine of questions but this time Takabe pulls
out the gun and shoots him repeatedly.
Takabe asks Mamiya sarcastically whether he remembers now, suspecting that
Mamiya has only be pretending of having lost his memory. In reality Mamiya
was a very rational cold-blooded killer.
In the mental clinic a nurse finds Fumie dead with an X marked on her neck.
(Could it be that Takabe himself killed her and carved the X on her neck to
make it look like one of the Mamiya-inspired murders?)
Some time later Takabe is having lunch by himself in a restaurant, looking happy and relaxed.
On the other side of the restaurant a waitress grabs a butcher's knife.
(It could be that she simply needs the knife to cut something or that she's about to kill someone).
Then came the thrillers
Serpent's Path (1998) and Eyes of the Spider (1998).
Karisuma/ Charisma (1999) is his most philosophical (and cryptic) work,
somewhere between Hitchcock and Tarkovsky.
The protagonist is a detective but the mystery he has to solve is philosophical:
what is more important, the individual or the society?
it is an amateurish, poorly photographed film with frustrating scenes that don't seem to have been completed. Details of the events are missing (where does the woman drag the unconscious cop? whom do the militia kill with sledgehammers and why?).
But the film overflows with enigmatic symbolism to become a labyrinth of metaphors in which the protagonist loses himself until he finds the exit, and the exit is a sort of Buddhist/Daoist acceptance of the contradiction inherent in all things: to be and not to be at the same time.
It starts with an empty forest that turns out to be full of people, each of them with an agenda and willing to kill for it.
All of these people have been driven crazy by the riddle: what matters more, a special tree or the whole forest?
This is the mother of all metaphors of the film:
the individual (the special tree) vs society (the forest as a whole).
When the protagonist enters the forest, he enters a landmine of allegories
and becomes the victim of a crisis of identity: is he the individual or just a
member of society? From the beginning, he is torn by existential fatigue,
wandering like a zombie in the labyrinth,
and he will smile again only when he solves the riddle: both the individual and the society are important, and both must be preserved, even if each individual competed with everybody else for survival.
It's a philosophical allegory that mirrors Kobo Abe's novel "Suna no Onna/ Woman in the Dunes" (and Hiroshi Teshigahara's 1964 film adaptation).
Before solving the riddle, before exiting his existential crisis, he meets
opposing philosophical forces:
the rangers and the scientist wants to kill the tree, the militia (that eventually corrupts the government rangers) wants to take it for a collector,
a loner fanatical sociopath
wants to keep it alive,
They are condemned to share a dying forest.
Everybody who spends some time in the forest goes crazy.
And the ordinary city man, the former cop, who stumbles there as a tourist, doesn't know who is right.
He is a negotiator in real life and becomes a negotiator also in this allegorical landscape.
He is trying to become a member of the society but quickly realizes that he has to choose sides in a society that is torn apart by different motivations and goals.
And when he sees the light, that the whole fight is pointless, he mocks the
scientist who is so obsessed with killing a tree that is already dead.
A detective, Yabuike, who looks tired and unhappy (his boss recommends that he takes a vacation), is called to defuse a hostage situation. A terrorist
has taken a high-level target (a politician) hostage and has a gun pointed
at his head. Yabuike calmy approaches him. The terrorist hands him a note in
which he has written "Restore the rules of the world".
Yabuike outsmarts him and could kill him but doesn't pull the trigger, as if
he wanted to save the terrorist too.
Seconds later, the terrorist kills the politician, and then the cops rush in and kill the terrorist.
Yabuike has failed and caused the death of two people.
He is forced to go on vacation. His partner drives him into a forest. During
the drive, Yabuike calls his family and tells them that he won't be coming home.
He asks to be dropped at a bus stop in the middle of the forest, but the bus
stop has obviously been abandoned for a long time.
When it gets dark, Yabuike finds an abandoned car and sleeps inside.
A woman approaches the car. The car catches fire. The woman pulls an unconscious
Yabuike out of the car (someone the explosion neither woke him up nor kills him) and drags his away in the night.
Somehow Yabuike sleeps in the cabin of the forest rangers.
We see them as they examine trees that died right after being planted and remark
that this keeps happening in that forest.
The following morning Yabuike chats with Nakasone, the manager of a ranger squad that is charged with cutting a tree, and tells him that he got stranded because the bus never came. Just then an environmentalist, Tsuboi, who works with
the rangers, arrives at Nakasone's cabin and Yabuike
volunteers to help him take some pictures. They walk to a place where a tall
tree stands alone, supported by a metal structure. Tsuboi frantically takes
pictures and explains to Yabuike that it's a dangerous place because a young
man threatens anybody who comes close to that tree. Nonetheless Yabuike walks
away alone, telling Tsuboi that someone stole his belongings the night before.
As Yabuike walks around the fields, he runs into his own cell phone which is
lying on the ground, just when his boss is calling. His boss tells him that
he has been fired. He then finds and eats some mushrooms and then sees or
imagines a dead decomposed man hanged from a tree. He starts laughing and
causes a tree to fall.
At night Yabuike sleeps in another building where a man threatens him with a gun.
In the morning Yabuike volunteers to help the rangers, walking in front of their pickup truck and cleaning the dirt road for them. He and Nakasone stop to eat magic mushrooms and enjoy getting high together at the cabin.
The following day Yabuike again tags along Tsuboi as the environmentalist
starts digging the roots of the tree protected by metal.
Both Tsuboi and Nakasone are convinced that the tree is killing all the other trees and nothing can grow around it.
The young man who protects the tree scares Tsuboi away and then shovels the
dirt again on the roots, while Yabuike calmly observes.
Yabuike then follows the young man, Kiriyama (presumably the same man who threatened him the night before), to another building (presumably the one where he slept the night before).
Kiriyama tells Yabuike that the building used to be a sanatorium and he is
caring for the director's widow, who is very sick.
The director has been dead for three years.
Kiriyama tells Yabuike that the protected tree is a special tree, Charisma, a magnificent tree from another dimension.
Now Yabuike helps Kiriyama take care of the tree.
Kiriyama is worried that the tree will live thousands of years: who will take care of it?
Yabuike touches the free and seems to feel that something is different.
Later, Yabuike walks to a river with a bucket to pick up water and falls into
an animal trap. A lady is driving by and sees him agonizing on the ground.
She frees him from the trap and drives him to her home, where she bandages
Jinbo is a botanist, a university professor, and her house is also her laboratory: she uses a stethoscope to listen to a tree's sound and assess its health.
She pours chemicals into a well to improve the soil of the forest: the water
of the well feeds the whole forest.
Yabuike borrows the stethoscope to listen to Charisma's sound.
In the evening he tells Kiriyama that he met Jinbo and
Kiriyama remarks that Jinbo is incompetent.
The following day
Yabuike is again at Jinbo's place and meets her younger sister
Chizuru, who warns him that the forest is not peaceful as he thinks
and that the forest is full of poisonous vegetation.
Yabuike realizes that she's the one who pulled him out of the car, who saved
Back at the sanatorium, Yabuike brings water to the widow lying in bed.
The following day Nakasone's team arrives to take down Charisma.
Within minutes Kiriyama attacks them armed with a long knife.
Yabuike stops Kiriyama before he can injure someone and tells Nakasone
The widow feels good enough to serve lunch to Yabuike but she is crazy:
she thinks that Yabuike is her husband. She asks him to release
Kiriyama, one of the patients of the sanatorium, so we learn that
Kiriyama is crazy too.
Jinbo explains to Yabuike that this used to be a beautiful forest before
Charisma was introduced by the director. Then a poison leaked by Charisma's
roots started killing all the trees around it. The forest is dying.
She ask Yabuike to choose a side: the forest or the individual tree.
Back at the sanatorium, Kiriyama mocks Jinbo's theory and defends the right of the individual to kill other trees, and asks
Yabuike to instead side with him to "restore the rules of the world" (the words of the terrorist of the first scene).
Kiriyama says that freedom is a disease.
Then we see Yabuike slowing down Nakasone's truck on the dirt road, and Nakasone throwing stones at him (presumably Yabuike has decided to side with Kiriyama).
Chizuru has a crush on Yabuike. and reveals that
Jinbo is dumping poison (not nutrients) in the well in order to kill the forest
and let it return to its natural state:
what is killing the forest is Jinbo, deliberately, not Charisma.
It looks like Jinbo too is crazy.
Chizuru tells Yabuike that everybody who spends some time in the forest goes crazy and encourages to go back to the city. She points in a direction but, as soon as he starts walking in that direction, he falls into another animal trap.
He now suspects that she's the one who set the car on fire before saving him.
Kiriyama panics and asks Yabuike for help: a pickup truck full of armed man
is on its way. Nakasone and Tsuboi are now working for a militia working for
a collector. The car gets stuck on the road and three men walk to the tree.
Kiriyama and Yabuike attacked them and
Yabuike shoots one in the leg (stopping
Kiriyama who would have probably shot to kill).
The other two chase Kiriyama and Yabuike away.
The truck arrives and the militia men
with Nakasone and Tsuboi finally cut down the tree and load it on the truck.
The truck is however ambushed by Yabuike and Kiriyama.
Kiriyama steals the truck and brings back Charisma where it was.
But now he is attacked by Chizuru, armed with a shovel, who knocks him
unconscious while Jinbo steals the truck. The girls take the tree away
and burn it. Yabuike sees a giant mushroom cloud rise from the forest (similar to the cloud of an atomic explosion).
A strong wind rises. We see the sisters at home, filmed from the attic.
At night a strange noise wakes up the militia men.
The following day Yabuike announces that he has found a new Charisma, a dead
tree that stands alone.
Kiriyama examines it and Yabuike asks Jinbo to examine it: they are both skeptic.
Yabuike now cares for this tree the same way that Kiriyama cared for the old one and even demolishes Jinbo's well, having decided that Jinbo is the killer of the forest, not Charisma.
Chizuru is disappointed and furious that
Yabuike has decided to stay: she would like him to go away and take her with him.
He tells her that he understood the truth: the forest is made of many average
trees, and each one is special, but the whole forest is important too so it was
a false choice: we don't need to choose one or the other.
The militia leader, Nakasone and Tsuboi show up with a briefcase full of money, ready to
buy the new Charisma for the collector.
Yabuike replies that the tree is not for sale and keeps working around it.
Chizuru, doubly furious, takes the briefcase and runs into the forest.
Nakasone and Tsuboi chase her.
Then we see the militia men summarily and brutally executing two men, smashing
their heads with a sledgehammer (not clear who!)
Nakasone and Tsuboi are lost in the forest and eat the magic mushrooms to survive.
Kiriyama collects the two dead bodies and finds Chizuru exhausted outside.
Kiriyama kills her thrusting a spear into her chest, buries her outside and takes the briefcase.
Kiriyama hauls the widow into a wheelbarrow and leaves the sanatorium.
under two giant parabolic antennas, emitting an alien noise, and tells him
that he (Yabuike) is Charisma.
The film is also a window into the collective subconscious of the Japanese nation, with references to Hiroshima (the mushroom cloud) and to religious cults.
It is also a deeper, more realistic take on (and almost a satirical reaction to) the idyllic theme of Hayao Miyazaki's Mononoke Hime/ Princess Mononoke (1997).
Everywhere there is intrigue and cheating:
the person who saved his life is also the one who almost killed him in the first place,
the scientist who blames the tree for poisoning the forest is actually the one dumping poison into the forest,
the ranger who wants to save the forest is also the one making a deal with the collector,
The madman, who used to be a patient in the sanatorium and now takes care of the director's widow (who in turn has gone crazy), in his determination of protecting the special tree, of fighting for the individual against the society, is compared with the terrorist who kills a politician when he uses the same motto: restore the rules of the world.
Nakasone and Tsuboi are dying in the forest, unable to find a way out and
Jinbo, determined to destroy the new Charisma, drives there
with a chainsaw and capsules of flammable gas.
Yabuike watches calmly sitting on a chair.
When Jinbo is unable to blow up the tree,
Yabuike himself finishes the job and then
he himself admits "it is just a dead tree", basically making fun of the
scientist's obsession with killing any tree that pretends to be special.
But Yabuike then ominously adds that it is "just the beginning".
Yabuike is walking away when he notices that the dead tree contains a budding
treelet. Just then the militia leader takes Jinbo hostage in front of him
and demands the treelet.
Yabuike this time does not hesitate and shoots him but trying not to kill him.
Yabuike loads the body of the wounded and unconscious militia man in a wheelchair and heads towards the city.
Meanwhile, Kiriyama tries in vain to hitch a ride on the pickup truck of the militiamen
showing them the briefcase full of money: they ride on, indifferent to the money.
Yabuike, still pushing the wheelbarrow with the wounded militiaman, stares from the top of a hill at the
city on fire while helicopters are flying overhead.
Yabuike pulls out his phone and calls his boss to tell him that he's coming back.
The conventional horror Seance (2000) was
a remake of Bryan Forbes' film Seance On A Wet Afternoon (1964),
itself an adaptation of Mark McShane's novel "Seance on a Wet Afternoon" (1961).
He then became a master of the horror genre with
Pulse (2001), structured in
two parallel interlocking stories that don't seem to relate until the very end,
which is more about loneliness in this world than the other world.
A female passenger on a ferry remembers how it all started.
The employees of a plant shop are worried that
Taguchi has disappeared since a week: he is supposed to deliver to them
an important disk.
One of them, Michi, takes a bus and goes to his apartment.
She rings the bell but noone opens the door.
However, she finds the key and walks in.
She looks in vain for the disk in the messy apartment.
Suddenly she finds him staring outside the window.
He directs her to his desk and, while she's not watching, he hangs himself.
Her female colleague Junko joins Michi at the police station and then they meet
with their male coworker Yabe at a cafe.
Yabe analyzes the disk and finds a picture of
Taguchi staring at his computer screen that is displaying himself staring at his
computer screen that is displaying... an endless recursion.
There is also another face reflected into another computer screen.
Alone at home, Michi is watching TV news when the TV set goes berserk.
She turns it off.
Meanwhile, alone in his dormitory room, a young man sets up his Internet connection and finds a video of a desperate man.
Then the young man falls asleep. The computer logs into the Internet by itself
and displays the question "Would you like to meet a ghost?"
The young man is puzzled and asks Harue, a female computer-science student at his university, if a computer can log
into the Internet by itself. He is instructed to bookmark the Internet page if it ever happens again.
At the plant shop Yabe receives a phone call from a man who keeps repeating "help me" and sends him a picture of Taguchi staring at the screen.
In the evening Yabe visits Taguchi's apartment and finds a piece of paper
with just one word in it (in English "The forbidden room").
The wall where Taguchi hanged himself has a black stain.
Yabe turns on the light in the room where Taguchi hanged himself and for a
second sees Taguchi standing against the wall.
On the way out Yabe sees a door sealed with red tape. He removes the tape and
walks into a dark empty apartment. A female ghost appears and walks towards him.
The woman tries to touch him and he screams.
We don't see what happens next.
The following day Michi and Junko are worried that Yabe has not shown up.
Eventually he shows up but refuses to speak.
When they leave the shop,
Michi watches as Junko seals a door with red tape.
Meanwhile, the student's home computer keeps logging into the Internet by itself and showing the disturbing
video a man with his head in a plastic bag against a wall on which someone
has written "Help me".
The student watches until he gets terrified and unplugs the computer.
He returns to Harue and asks for help again. We learn that his name is
In the computer room
sees a strange videogame consisting in
dots that can't connect on the screen: Harue tells him that it's meant to
simulate people who can't connect in real life.
that she feels like there are ghosts among the dots.
Harue feels that the mysterious videogame and
video are related.
Harue seems to desire a date with
as she gives him her phone number.
begins to read books on ghosts at the library.
He sees someone hiding behind the shelves. Another student tells
that he too sees the mysterious stranger and that it's impossible
to catch him.
is terrified. The other student has a theory: that ghosts have
ran out of space in their dimension and are spilling over into the real world
thanks to the channel created by the Internet.
Meanwhile at work Yabe behaves like a zombie. Michi manages to extort from him
a few sentences about a horrible face and the forbidden room.
Later, as she is walking home, Michi witnesses a woman committing suicide by
jumping from a tall tower.
At work Michi receives a phone call from a man who sounds like Yabe
but doesn't say anything meaningful. She rushes to Yabe's place and finds him
in a catatonic state against a wall with a black stain endlessly repeating the words "Help me".
On the way out she realizes that Junko has been there an unsealed a door that
was taped with red tape, a forbidden room. Michi finds Junko terrified and
then sees that the reason is a horrible ghost.
Michi takes her hom but Junko can't speak anymore.
Michi walks into a grocery shop to buy food but there's no cashier.
She only sees a black stain on the wall, like the ones at Taguchi's place
and at Yabe's place. She runs out without paying.
finds a video of a disappearing man. He visits Harue.
Harue is not home. She comes home all wet, behaving like a madwoman.
When she calms down, she tells
that she thinks dead people are as lonely as living ones.
She turns on all the computer screens in her room, each of them showing the
video of a ghost.
Harue reasons that ghosts have no interest in killing humans because that would
simply create more ghosts. Instead, ghosts want to make people immortal, but
Meanwhile, Junko goes crazy in Michi's apartment. Later she seems to feel
better but, when Michi is not watching, she disappears in the wall, leaving
behind only a black stain. A wind then dissolves the black stain.
Michi calls her mother but she doesn't answer, so Michi takes the bus to
is playing in a videogame arcade and sees a ghost entering it.
He runs outside and finds Harue smashing things.
Kawashima convinces Harue to take a train and leave town.
There's nobody else on the train.
Suddenly the train stops in the middle of nowhere.
Kawashima would like to look for the conductor but Harue jumps out of the train
and disappears in the night.
Harue returns home (somehow) and turns on a computer. The computer prints
a page with the word "the forbidden room".
The screen shows a man shooting himself.
She presses a key and the computer screen starts showing herself staring at
the computer screen showing a video of her staring at the screen... recursively.
She turns and talks to somebody and seems to smile.
We don't see what happens next.
Kawashima arrives and frantically breaks into the apartment.
Harue has disappeared.
Kawashima leaves the apartment and wanders in the deserted streets.
He watches an abandoned TV set: TV news is an endless list of people who have disappeared.
He finds Michi asleep in her car (the two stories finally converge).
Both her mom and dad have disappeared.
Her car stopped working.
Kawashima fixes it and they drive around looking for Harue.
She is not in her apartment and the wall is covered with the word "help".
They find Harue in a nearby factory, but she is catatonic and shoots herself.
Michi and Kawashima start driving again until they run out of gasoline.
Then they stop in a wareshouse.
Michi sees a door sealed with red tape.
He opens it and gets trapped inside. A ghost appears and tells him that
"death is eternal loneliness.
Michi grabs the ghost by the shoulders and realizes that he is real.
We don't see what happens next but Michi finds
Kawashima lying on the floor alone with a black stain next to him.
They return to the car and start driving again through the deserted streets.
It looks like they are the only two people left in the city.
They reach the port.
Kawashima is becoming catatonic.
Michi drags him into a motorboat as a plane crashes nearby and explodes.
Now we are back at the first scene. Michi is on the ferry boat that
has rescued them. The man in charge tells her that people are disappearing
everywhere and they are headed for Latin America, which seems to be the only
Kawashima disappears in front of Michi and only a black stain remains.
It followed it with the cryptic drama
Bright Future (2003), the comedy
Doppelganger (2003), and the romantic
He returned to the horror genre with
Retribution (2006), followed by the masterful
family dramas Tokyo Sonata (2008) and
Tokyo Sonata (2008) is the Ozu-esque depressing story of a
middle-class family whose routine is altered and
loses its center of mass,
its sense of unambiguous mission, and its cohesion.
Each of the four family members have a story to tell, but at the center is the
portrait of a man who has been in control all his life and now
is losing control of his life.
There are echoes of Ozu's Tokyo Chorus (1931), but adapted and amplified
to the age of globalization and terrorism.
A Chinese delegation visits the offices of a Japanese corporation and promises
to find cheaper personnel. The boss calls
the middle-aged manager
Sasaki and asks him what else he can do for the company now that his
department is being moved to China.
Angry, Sasaki quits.
On the way home he runs into his son Kenji who is coming back from school.
The man, Ryuhei, is reluctant to go home and comically enters from a window but
his wife Megumi sees him anyway.
At school Kenji is caught passing around a book of porn manga. The teacher
punishes him, but Kenji retaliates by saying loudly that he saw the teacher
reading porn manga on the subway.
On the way home Kenji stops to watch a girl practising piano.
Ryuhei doesn't tell his wife that he has lost his job. He visits the
unemployment office and he is told that he will not get another job like the
one he had. The best he can hope for is store manager.
Over dinner Kenji asks his parents for piano lessons, but his father curtly
The following day Ryuhei pretends to go to work but he actually stands in
line for free food. While he's eating, his old classmate Kurosu recognizes
him. Kurosu guesses that Ryuhei is unemployed because he himself is.
Kurosu pretends to be a busy businessman by having his mobile phone ring every
so often. Ryuhei decides to do the same and hide from his family that he is
Kenji finds a keyboard in a garbage can and brings it home to practise by himself.
When his mom gives him money to pay for food at school, he uses it to pay the
piano instructor for piano lessons, secretly.
Kurosu, worried that his wife may be suspecting something, invites Ryuhei for dinner to pretend they work together.
The two men lie shamelessly in front of Kurosu's wife and daughter, but even
the little girl suspects that something is wrong.
The job interviews get more and more humiliating.
The two men get angry and desperate.
Ryuhei's wife got her driving license and dreams of buying a car.
She accidentally sees Ryuhei and Kurosu standing in the line for free food.
Meanwhile, Kenji's piano instructor is going through a divorce.
One day Ryuhei waits in vain for Kurosu. Ryuhei walks to his house and finds out that Korusu has killed himself and killed his wife with gas.
Meanwhile, the older son, Takashi, who is still a minor, works humble jobs until one day he decides to join the US military.
Ryuheu strongly opposes the idea and has a strong argument with Takashi,
but doesn't change his mind and leaves for the USA.
Kenji's piano instructor thinks that Kenji is talented enough to pursue a career in music, but Kenji doesn't want her to talk to his family (because her family doesn't even know that he's studying piano).
Desperate, Ryuhei takes the first job offered to him, even if its a low-paid job as a cleaner in a shopping mall.
One day Ryuhei's wife finds out that Kenji owes three months of lunch money.
Kenji confesses that he has been taking piano lessons.
Ryuhei's wife accepts it, but
Ryuhei, who had explicitly forbidden, gets even angrier with Kenji than he was with the older son. He mocks the letter in which the instructor calls him a
Kenji yells back at his father and his father slaps him.
The wife then confronts Ryuhei: she guessed that he's been laid off.
Ryuhei throws Kenji down the stairs and the child has to be hospitalized.
While they are at the hospital, they hear that the USA has started a new war
and that recently enrolled Japanese soldiers will be deployed.
Ryuhei is still washing floors and cleaning toilets.
One day Takashi comes home, traumatized because he killed many people,
but then leaves again.
While cleaning a restroom stall, Ryuhei finds an envelope full of money
and walks out of the shopping mall. On the way out he runs into... his wife!
They are both shocked: she didn't know that he has become a cleaner and he is
humiliated that she finds out.
The film then shows us what happened three hours earlier.
A masked man attacked her while she was home alone, and threatened to kill her
if she didn't give him money. The man was so inept that he removed his mask
and she saw his face. He took her hostage and forced her to drive a stolen
car: her first experience driving a car.
He told her that he was a locksmith and had lost his job and had failed
at everything he had tried, including being a robber.
He was so inept that she could easily escape.
She accidentally entered the shopping mall where her husband works.
Now she walks out of the shopping mall and returns to the kidnapper, who
is surprised that she came back.
She tells him that she doesn't want to go home anymore and drives away with him.
Meanwhile, Ryuhei runs through the streets of the city carrying in his pocket
the envelope full of money.
Meanwhile, Kenji runs into his asthmatic friend Taguchi who has run away from home.
When Taguchi's father arrives, Kenji and Taguchi run together and Kenji helps Taguchi hide.
However, the father finds Taguchi and Kenji flees.
Inspired by his friend, Kenji decides to run away from his own father.
Ryuhei's wife drives the car to a beach, where the kidnapper first tries to
kiss her and then tries to have sex with her in a shack, but she resists him.
It is now night: Ryuhei is still running, apparently randomly, like a drunk.
He trips on garbage bags and cries. Then he resumes his senseless run until
he is run over by a van that then drives away leaving him unconscious and bleeding on the side of the street.
Meanwhile, at the beach the kidnapper is crying about being such a failure.
She pities him, obviously relating his tragedy to her own husband's.
Meanwhile, at Kenji is caught while he was hiding in the baggage compartment
of a bus and is taken to the police, where he refuses to speak and is locked
in a prison cell with some adult men.
Kenji is released the following morning and has to walk home.
He finds nobody home: nobody knows that he didn't come home.
His mother is sleeping at the beach. When she wakes up, the kidnapper has
disappeared. She walks to the beach and finds the tire marks of the car
heading into the sea: he committed suicide.
She walks away crying.
Ryuhei wakes up in the street, with a few scars and bruises, but hardly hurt.
He sees a lost-and-found box and drops the envelope with the money in it.
And then he walks limping towards his home.
He walks in still wearing his janitor uniform and joins his wife and son
for breakfast without saying a word.
They watch the news on TV and hear that foreign volunteers will be sent home.
Four months later, Ryuhei is still washing the floors of the shopping mall.
Takashi writes that he has changed side and now fights for the Arabs.
One day Ryuhei and his wife attend Kenji's piano performance for an audition.
After Tokyo Sonata his films became much more conventional.
He turned to science-fiction with
Real (2013), but did better with the brief thriller
Sebunsu Kodo/ Seventh Code (2013), the first film that Kurosawa shot outside Japan, a film that mixes Hitchcock-ian international espionage conspiracy (with a
very Hitchcock-ian twist of events) and an existential spirit that recalls
both noir film and road movies.
The film's characters are all nomadic, stateless losers.
An explicit inspiration must have been
Akiko Yosano's poem "Tabi ni tatsu/ Starting on a Journey", which is referenced twice: she wrote her in Vladivostok (in 1912), the city where the film is set,
and the protagonist's name is precisely Akiko.
The poem is about an independent woman who is moving on in her life.
The film is set in the East Russian city of Vladivostok.
A car takes off and a Japanese woman, Akiko,
starts running after it, carrying her suitcase, but the car doesn't stop. She chases the car until the car stops and she
confronts the driver, a young Japanese businessman named Matsunaga.
She reminds him that they had dinner once in Tokyo and
confesses that she is obsessed with him and that she chased him all the way to
Vladivostok. However, he tells her that he totally forgot about her and has no
feelings towards her. He pays for a quick lunch with her but then leaves her
again. Undeterred, she starts running again around the foreign city, always
dragging her heavy suitcase. She finds him while he is meeting a group of
Russians in a shady building. She is attacked by two of the Russians, kidnapped
on a truck, and dumped on the coast, far away from the city.
Her clothes are all torn, her face is dirty, and she lost her suitcase.
She walks around until she finds an empty house.
She helps herself to the clothes she finds in the closet and stubbornly returns to the city.
Starving, she walks into a Japanese restaurant where the young pretty waitress is Chinese.
She eats a lot and then confesses that she doesn't have money to pay because
her wallet was stolen.
The owner, a Japanese man, is nice, forgives her and suggests she asks the
consulate for help. Akiko, however, is stubborn: she asks to stay in the
restaurant where she can see people pass by. The Chinese waitress,
Xiao-yan, tells her that she followed the man, Saito, but didn't expect to
end up in Russia.
Akiko sleeps on the floor of Xiao-yan's apartment.
In return, Akiko helps in the restaurant.
Saito tells her that he came to Russia to buy caviar that is ten times cheaper in Russia than in Japan, but it turned out that Japanese don't like caviar.
Then he tried with honey and failed too.
When Akiko sees Matsunaga's car passing by and starts running after it, Saito
helps her take shortcuts to chase it.
The driver is not Matsunaga.
The car finally stops on a hill outside town and the driver carries a briefcase to a warehouse inside a park. Saito and Akiko follow him unseen. Saito recognizes the place as a hideout of gangsters. He warns her that she is getting into
dangerous business and convinces her to go back home.
Xiao-yan decides to leave town and explore more of Russia, inspired by
Akiko Yosano's poem "Tabi ni tatsu/ Starting on a Journey".
Akiko walks her to the station.
Saito gathers information about the mysterious warehouse and tells Akiko that
gangsters are hiding an electronic component for atomic bombs and that
Matsunaga is a gangster himself.
Nonetheless, Saito decides to help Akiko. He arms himself and, without telling her, returns to the warehouse.
Akiko guesses where he is and runs to the warehouse too.
She finds him dead, shot in the heart.
She flees when Matsunaga and the Russians walk in.
As she is walking down the road, Matsunaga sees her and, thinking that she is
just lost, gives her a ride to his own apartment.
But he shares the apartment with a white woman who orders him (in English) to get rid of Akiko.
Matsunaga is about to do it when suddenly Akiko turns into a fighting machine,
a ferocious wrestler who quickly disarms him with some skilled moves.
She then puts a pillow on his head and shoots him dead.
She takes the keys to the safe and steals the box containing the atomic bomb
She then makes a phone call to announce the success of her mission and to ask
for the reward.
So all the time she was an operative chasing the gangster.
Akiko delivers it to a Russian politician who simply asks her to destroy it for him. She steps on the precious electronic gadget and smashes it to pieces.
He hands her a big envelop with the reward in cash.
She stuffs it into her backpack and hitchhikes her way out of town
like a backpacker tourist.
Echoing the waitress,
she recites Akiko Yosano's poem "Tabi ni tatsu" (Starting on a Journey):
she has enough money to start a new life somewhere else.
While she's sitting in the back of a truck that is transporting dynamite, we see her singing "Loneliness Is the 7th Chord" on a stage (her dream of becoming a pop star?) (note: the actress playing Akiko was a famous teen pop idol, member of the AKB48 band, and the song gives the film its title).
She notices a car following the truck and smiles.
The camera stops following them and remains still for a long time.
Eventually we see in the distance an explosion on the road: the dynamite exploded. (Did the gangsters blow up the truck or did she blow up the car following the truck?)
The camera then turns to the peaceful green plains.
Journey to the Shore (2015) is an adaptation of
Kazumi Yumoto's novel "Kishibe no Tabi".
He finally returned to horror cinema with Daguerrotype (2016) and
Creepy (2016), which is the better of the two but
too implausible to be truly thrilling and further weakened by a ridiculous
Matsuoka, a convict, tells a detective that he cannot tell the difference between right and wrong.
Matsuoka is a
psychopath who killed eight people and is about to be transferred to a maximum-security prison, but the detective begs for one more day of interrogation.
While the dectective is chatting with a colleague, the Matsuoka kills
a guard, escapes and takes a woman hostage threatening to kill her with a fork.
The detective confronts him and accepts to turn his back to him to prove that he doesn't want to hurt him.
Matsuoka stabs him in the back and then slashes the woman's throat to prove what his "morality" is.
The detective, Koichi Takakura, and his wife Yasuko (the perfect housewife)
move to a new town.
They want to introduce themselves to neighbors but one, Tanaka, a woman who is taking care of her bedridden mother, is rude and refuses their gift, and another one even refuses to open the door.
Koichi has a new job, teaching at a university with lectures on serial killers.
Koichi befriends a fellow researcher, Okawa, who is classifying crimes, including the unsolved case of a family of three that disappeared: the little
daughter Saki is still there but her testimony was unreliable.
Okawa begs Koichi to show him what a detective does in a case like that but
Koichi is not interested.
Meanwhile, Yasuko finally meets the neighbor who didn't open the door: Nishino,
who too is not friendly at all.
A former colleague from the police station, Nogami, thinking that Koichi is still interested in the case, but Joichi still has traumas related to his failure with Matsuoka.
Nogami begs him to interview Saki, the mysterious daughter, and they visit the
old home of the disappeared family and discover that Saki is there too.
She has no explanation for why she's there, six years after moving out,
she claims she doesn't remember anything and she runs away.
Meanwhile, Yasuko's dog attacks neighbor Nishino and Nishino opens up that he was being rude only because everybody else there is so rude.
Nishino introduces Yasuko to his teenage daughter Mio, and tells Yasuko about his wife, but when Yasuko asks to meet the wife, Nishino suddenly becomes hostile again.
Nishino later complains with Koichi that Yasuko has been nosing around.
Koichi visits Saki who lives with her granma, and then invites him to his office at the university.
Saki tells Koichi that her mother owed money to several people, that both her parents received phone calls from a mysterious person, and that her brother started drinking and her feeling is that he was forced to get drunk.
Yasuko tries again to be friendly and brings a bowl of soup to Nishino, and this time Nishino lets her into his house, but his daughter Mio is unfriendly and doeesn't want Yasuko to meet her mother. Nishino confesses that his wife has suffered from depression for a while and has no friends.
Koichi is surprised to come home and find that Yasuko has invited Nishino and Mio to dinner.
Nishino is vague when Koichi asks him about his job.
Saki returns to see Joichi and offers new details on a meeting that was scheduled when she left for a school trip, a meeting that she suspects involved a neighbor, whom Koichi and Nogami identify as someone called Mizuta, who disappeared too.
Nogami explores the abandoned house of the disappeared family and discovers
five corpses wrapped in plastic bags: the three members of Saki's family, Mizuta and his wife.
Later Nogami discovers that Mizuta had moved out three years earlier, so he couldn't be the mysterious person Saki saw.
Meanwhile at home Yasuko runs into Nishino, who suddenly to have a crush on her.
At the same tim
Koichi is stopped by Mio in the street, and Mio tells him that Nishino
is not her father: she calls him "a total stranger".
Nishino sees them together and hits Mio.
Later Koichi finds Yasuko on the phone and she refuses to tell him whom she was talking with. Suddenly, she seems to be having a nervous breakdown.
Koichi asks Nogami to investigate Nishino.
Koichi noticed that Nishino's houe and his house share the same configuration
as the house of Saki's family and the house of Mizuta.
Koichi asks the rude neighbor what she thinks of Nishino and she says that Nishino is a heartless monster.
Nogami visits Nishino introducing himself as a cop.
Nogami notices that Nishino looks different from the picture on file.
Nishino lets him in but then disappears. Nogami looks for him around the house
and finds a big metal door and we don't see what he finds because
the house of the old woman Tanaka explodes.
Koichi breaks into the house trying in vain to save Nishino and Mio
without knowing that Nogami is also there.
Koichi notices that Nishino is calmly
watching television, indifferent to the explosion.
The police determines that the explosion was caused by a gas leak and informs Koichi that three bodies have been found: Tanaka, her mother and Nogami. And so Koichi learns that Nogami is dead.
Nobody has an explanation for why Nogami was in Tanaka's house (we last saw him in Nishino's house), but a furious Koichi now suspects that Nishino is Mizuta.
He asks in vain Saki to recognize him in a picture.
Now we are taken into Nishino's dirty secrets.
Mio seems to be under his control, perhaps a lover.
Her father is dead, his body wrapped in the same kind of plastic bag that we saw in Saki's house.
Her mother is lying on the floor, a twitching drug addict.
Mio asks Nishino whether she should dispose of her father the way she disposed of her brother.
Mio is supposed to inject a tranquillizer in her mother's arm but somehow cheats and her mother becomes violent instead of sedated. She tries to stab Nishino.
Nishino gives Mio a loaded gun and orders her to kill her own mother.
Mio doesn't even think for a second of shooting him instead, but she can't shoot
her own mother so Nishino grabs the gun and shoots her. Then he blames Mio, as if the whole mess had been caused by Mio (mio falling in love with Nishino?)
Meanwhile, Yasuko has become a drug addict, which explains her depression.
Nishino somehow got her addicted. He lures her into his house and shows her
the dead woman in front of Mio. Nishino tells Yasuko that Mio killed her
and that it was all because of her, Yasuko. Mio listen passively and doesn't object. Mio coldly explains that she is going to wrap her mother in a plastic bag and then bury her. Yasuko helps her.
Neither tries to rebel to Nishino, who is not even watching them.
Koichi is furious that the police don't let him look into Nogami's files (Koichi is no longer with the force). He returns home and finds that Yasuko is missing.
Mio runs in as if she's running away from Nishino. Nishino bangs on the door
looking for Mio.
Koichi doesn't want to open but Nishino has taken the key from Yasuko and opens the door. Understanding that he has kidnapped Yasuko, Koichi chases Nishino.
A drugged Yasuko comes out of Nishino's home, indifferent to the fight.
Koichi tells Mio to call the police. The police arrive but they arrest Koichi,
Yasuko meekly stays with Nishino
At the police station a senior detective tells Koichi of the result of their investigation:
Nogami committed suicide with gas because he had debts.
Koichi insists that Nishino killed Nogami and that he is Mizuka.
Koichi is released.
The senior detective enters Nishino's house to interrogate him but falls into
a trap and Nishino captures him.
Koichi, searching for Yasuko, walks into Nishino's house.
He finds a drugged Yasuko who refuses to be rescued and claims that she's been unhappy with their marriage ever since.
Instead of just taking Yasuko outside, Koichi keeps searching the house and finds the senior detective sedated.
Nishino appears with a gun and proves to Koichi that he has full control over Yasuko by hading her a gun that she promptly hands back to him.
Nishino controls people's minds with drugs and then he has them kill each other.
Koichi manages to convince Yasuko to walk towards him and, convinced that he won the psychological battle over Yasuko, he starts lecturing Nishino on psychopaths. Nishino calmly listens to him while Yasuko moves behind Koichi. Koichi thinks that she just wants to hold his hand but instead Yasuko injects him with the tranquillizer: Yasuko is still under Nishino's control and that's why Nishino didn't need to use his gun and was listening calmly to Koichi's victory speech.
Nishino tells Mio that they are moving out.
They take the drugged Koichi and Yasuko with them.
To prove that he now controls Koichi's mind, Nishino hands Koichi a gun and orders him to kill his own dog. Koichi, however, was only pretending, and uses the gun to kill Nishino.
Mio and Yasuko are suddenly liberated of their mental slavery.
Before We Vanish (2017) and
Foreboding (2017) are sci-fi movies.
To the Ends of the Earth (2019) feels like an ethnographic documentary.
Supai no Tsuma/ Wife of a Spy (2020) is a masterful historical drama.