PREMONITION (2004, Japan, aka YOGEN)
Region 1 NTSC DVD (Lions Gate)
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This is the second in the 'J-Horror Theater' series of movies - six unrelated stories with different horror directors, linked only by the same production team (most importantly producer, Taka Ichise, trading on his success with the Ring and Ju-on franchises).
Incidentally, there's a series of four Korean horror films coming out soon that are using this same trick (see the posters at 24framespersecond - Aug 28 entry).
Premonition was released in Japan as Yogen at the same time as the first in the series Kansen (Infection). The third, Rinne (Reincarnation), directed by Takashi Shimizu, was released in 2005.
I was expecting more from this film, seeing as it was directed by Norio Tsuruta, whose eerie Kakashi and Ring 0: Birthday had impressed me.
Premonition begins with a real life newspaper article about the same real-life psychic who inspired Ring, and was refered to in the book and movie.
The strong premise is that a newspaper is delivered with headlines describing deaths that haven’t happened yet, and what happens when the reader tries to avert the fatalities. I can't describe much of the plot without spoiling it from the start. I can just say that the opening scene is incredibly tragic and that the eerie mood doesn't take long to get established.
Based on a thirty year old manga story called Kyofu Shinbun (literally Newspaper of Terror), The script expands and incorporates the original tale very cleverly.
In the thorough extras on the Region 1 DVD is a very honest interview with the director, Norio Tsuruta, who admits that his horror films have been much more subtle in the past, but now, jealous of the success of Takashi Shimizu, he’s been encouraged to ‘show more’ horror. Looks like he studied Ju-on 2 very closely, because there’s a similarly tour-de-force sequence of alternate realities towards the climax, where the viewer is disorientated by constantly changing timelines. He even cast the star of Ju-on 2, 'horror queen' Noriko Sakai, as the leading lady here.
The original Japanese flyer
Almost instantly, I was gripped by the film, which has a heavy air of supernatural suspense right from the start. This mood was sustained for much of the film, no mean feat, but the actual horror payoffs, that the director has previously avoided, didn’t work for me. Ghostly apparitions were shown in too strong a light as too physical, and failed to shock or scare, making the main actor’s reactions appear even more over the top.
Leading actor Hiroshi Mikami has to appear distraught, scared or shocked for much of the movie and wasn't reined back as far as he could have been. To many viewers I’d guess his acting would be seen as way ‘too much’ and more likely to amuse than frighten. This isn't a film to turn on your friends to Japanese horror.
Similarly, there's another awkward moment that may also unintentionally amuse. A scene at a funeral service shows a mourner about to look into the casket. The mother of the deceased opens up the casket and allows her to look inside before warning her that the dearly departed has had its face ripped off!
Full marks for mood (and cutest child ever), but points deducted for actual horror. Again, I really enjoyed the disorientating climax, almost a nod to the climax of Dead of Night (1945) where the protagonist stumbled through every previous scene in the film. The climax and the film’s satisfying resolution makes up for its deficiencies. But I had been expecting a more even and successful film from this promising series.
In the US, the series began on DVD without any sort of fanfare, considering the talent involved. I'll admit that the lacklustre front cover has put me off watching this until now.
Premonition, Infection and Reincarnation have just been released in the UK (as part of 'The J-Horror Collection'), with better DVD covers, taken from the original Japanese ad campaign.
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