January 22, 2008

NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE (2006) a Tsukamoto classic

(2006, Japan, on IMDB as Akumu Tantei)

Region 2 PAL Italian DVD (RaroVideo)

The films of director Shinya Tsukamoto are always interesting but usually challenging. His two films of Tetsuo the Iron Man were extreme and disorientating, Haze was short and experimental, Hiruko the Goblin and Gemini bizarre and surreal.

Nightmare Detective appears to be his most mainstream, high profile project. A short plot summary looks accessible enough - a psychic who can enter other people's dreams doing battle with a nightmare killer. This sounds familiar, in the vein of the many Elm Streets, but appearances can be deceptive...

Detective Keiko Kirishima (played by Hitomi) arrives on the scene of a suicide, but is suspicious that it's not as it appears. When the case is linked to another violent and bloody death, her colleagues are astonished when she insists that it’s not only a murder case, but also in need of a psychic to solve it.

But her contact, a Nightmare Detective, is a tortured suicidal soul who only works for his friends. He hates diving into peoples dreams for mere money. But when the unseen, ferocious and terrifying killer claims more victims, all of the detectives find themselves in danger.

The result is a dark, disorientating descent into a world of suicide and psychosis.

The cast are excellent. Although Ryuhei Matsuda has the title role, the majority of the film is shouldered by Hitomi, giving an astonishing peformance given this is only her second film. Actually, both characters could be called the Nightmare Detective of the title, one in the police force, one in dreamland.

Youthful-looking Matsuda attracts many difficult roles, like his first in Gohatto, though he recently had a welcome break from angst in the comedy Otakus in Love.

I failed to recognise Masanobu Ando as Detective Wakamiya. He was enjoyable as the star of the Red Shadow remake, one of the many schoolboy victims in Battle Royale, and is in the soon-to-be-cult-classic Sakuran.

Tsukamoto, the writer/director also appears in the film. Is there anything he can’t do?

For the many nightmare scenes, the Hollywood answer would be to build dreamscapes from scratch on soundstages, like they did for The Cell. Instead, beautifully crisp location photography uses the skyscrapers of the business district of Shinjuku, together with underwater footage, to evoke a disorientating unreal world bathed in blue.

The ‘Tetsuo style’ of camera shake and machine-gun editing was too much for the entire length of a feature film, but is aptly used here for the frightening instances when the killer attacks in a frenzy. Anyone at all can wave a camera around and edit fast, but Tsukamoto has perfected the method, enabling the viewer to still follow the action.

This is an ambitious and involving experience. Though I was a little disorientated towards the climax, when I started to lose track of the rules of the dream logic. I was even wandering at one point if the story was going to return to the scenario of Haze, his previous project. The ever-present theme of suicide haunts most of the film, and may be too dark for some.

Japan is spoilt for talented directors who can deliver original, stylish, effective horror films on limited budgets. Together with Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Takashi Shimizu, Sion Sono, Higuchinsky... all proved that there's more to J-horror than long black hair.

Thankfully, Nightmare Detective has been a success and a sequel is already well on the way – ironic considering how much the hero hates to use his abilities.

It reaches region 1 US DVD in February. I've got the good-looking Italian DVD, which has decent English subtitles, though the additional interviews haven't. It certainly has far better cover art than the US...

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