Kiyoshi Kurosawa has gained a considerable reputation in recent years as one of the most interesting Japanese filmmakers specializing in horror films. Yet he has not attained quite the celebrity status in the U.S. as his fellow Japanese horrormeister Hideo Nakata (Ringu). Perhaps when his 2001 film Kairo sees new life in the Americanized Pulse this summer things will change, as they did for Nakata when Gore Verbinski’s remake of Ringu appeared. Personally, I’m doubtful. Kurosawa (no relation to Akira) works in a more restrained, art-house style than Nakata.
Nowhere is this more evident than in his frequently brilliant remake of Bryan Forbes’ 1964 film, Seance on a Wet Afternoon, based on the novel of the same name. Kurosawa departs greatly from his source. Forbes’ film avoided the supernatural and was almost an example of British “kitchen sink” realism in some regards. Kurosawa’s 2000 film is much more clearly horror. We’re left no doubt about the mediumistic powers of Junco Sato (Jun Fubuki), and there’s little reason to doubt that her husband (Koki Yakusho) is actually being haunted by the ghost of the girl he accidentally killed in their planned bid for fame.
But the horror is very much of a reticent nature, more cerebral than visceral (one scene is on par with Samara’s appearance out of the TV in Verbinski’s Ring). Kurosawa’s film is creepy — the atmosphere is bathed in dread — but rarely frightening. Ultimately, it’s reminiscent of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now — an equally fright-free, but completely unsettling work.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke