Kiyoshi Kurosawa – a Japanese horror maestro – attracted critics’ attention with his 1997 Cure, a horror film in the purest sense of the word, with an ability to unsettle the audience that was a second to none; Cure also got recognition from various international film festivals and has become one of the most haunting Japanese motion pictures belonging to the horror genre. Two years later he – yet again – won praise both at home and around the world with his feature License to Live. However, Cure merely opened the door for the rest to follow: Pulse (2001 – received FIPRESCI Prize at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival) – an effectively eerie “techno-chiller/thiller”- Loft (2005), Tokyo Sonata (2008- won the Jury Price in Cannes’ Un Certain Regards section), Seventh Code (2013), Journey to the Shore (2015 – Won Best Director in Cannes Un Certain Regard Section) – his most subtle film up-to-date; it was these that helped him build his fame even further, step by thrilling step. Kurosawa’s work is mostly dark, chilling and unnerving; that is also how Creepy – his latest feature – goes down.
Tokyo, Japan. In a small room, a serial killer is being interrogated by a couple of detectives. He is of particular interest to one of the police officers: Koichi Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima: While the Women are Sleeping, MOZU, Licence to Live), who is well-versed in criminal psychology and who thinks that he has the murderer figured out. Unexpectedly, the killer escapes the custody, and in the process, he stabs Takakura and kills an old lady – before he is gunned down by the police. The first few minutes of the film move very fast, but the pace changes when we are transported to a quiet suburban neighborhood where Koichi now works at a university as a professor of criminal psychology (he retired from active police work), with his wife Yasuto (Yuko Takeuchi: The Inerasable, Be With You, Ring) looking after the house; undeniably, they both yearn to have a more halcyon life after the horrible incident that left Koichi in distress. As the custom requires, they ought to introduce themselves to their neighbours; among them, there are the Nishinos, a mysterious family trio that includes an odd male who seems to have no social skills and whose daunting stares and malicious smiles will creep the audience out.
Days have gone by and Koichi is slightly bored of teaching, so when his former partner Nogami (Masahiro Higashide: Gonin Saga, The Kirishima Thing) asks him to help resolve a ‘cold case’ concerning a missing family in Hino city, he agrees to lend a hand with the investigation. With a help of a young girl, Saki Honda (Haruna Kawaguchi: Time Trip App, Say “I Love You”) – whose allegedly missing family left her behind – Nogami and Koichi learn that Saki’s relatives were visited by someone who later managed to manipulate their lives and subsequently murdered them – the bodies (wrapped in plastic bags) are later discovered at the family’s house by Nogami- chills might go down the audience’s spines just by watching this part of the film.
While Koichi is busy with work, the lonely Yasuko finds comfort in meeting and cooking for her weird neighbours. Her relationship with Mr Nishino slowly gets awkward and uncomfortable for her husband, who also starts to believe that the person who killed the ‘missing family’ resembles the behavioral pattern of one of Mr Nishino – who now knows how to control the woman’s emotions and demeanour. Kurosawa cleverly creates anxiety by slow tracking shots and with growing tension between psychopathic Nishino and Koichi. How will Koichi and Yasuko manage to free themselves from their neighbour?
Based on the same-title mystery novel by Japanese author Yutaka Maekawa, Creepy is … well, creepy. It is not a Cure-type of a film, but a decent psychological thriller. The film gradually distills doubt and anxiety, exploring both the husband’s mind and his dealings with the unsolved investigation, and the loneliness of the woman who is forced to stay at home. Acting is well executed, particularly the striking and “spine-chilling” performance by Teruyuki Kagawa (Rurouni Kenshin, Tokyo Sonata, Devils on the Doorstep) as Mr Nishino. Creepy is devastating, disturbing and – in some ways – provocative; it is a kind of a journey into one’s madness. Some characters are more repellent than frightening; nevertheless, they are fascinating in their own way.
I did enjoy watching it; however, I expected way too much from Creepy; I wanted it to be more terrifying – it felt like the film attempted to scare the viewers but without much success. That said, it is – without a doubt – a cleverly directed thriller, with mind games and suspense taking over. I also appreciate how Kurosawa let his audience witness his characters’ lives falling apart; this appears to be one of his signature storytelling tools. Cinematography by Akiko Ashizawa (she is known for being the most accomplished female cinematographer in Japanese film history; she worked on Journey to the Shore, Tokyo Sonata and Loft, to name just a few) is amazing as Akiko gives a specific expression to the images; she works well with lighting to capture a sense of tension – and this production is no exception. Music by Yuri Habuka is adequate for everything that is happening on the big screen, also adding to the film’s atmosphere. Overall, Creepy is worth watching so do trot to the UK cinemas during London East Asia Film Festival (Sunday 23rd October; 20:30 – CREEPY (Curzon Soho, sc1) | Q&A | Official Selection) and the 60th BFI London Film Festival; if you miss this screening, you will have a chance to watch it again; the film will be released in the UK & Ireland on November 25, 2016.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Creepy Film Partners