EXPECTATIONS: A ghost story with more reliance on storytelling than actual scares.
REVIEW: Ghost stories have been incredibly popular on film and in Japan, it was a huge craze. From films back in the 50’s and 60’s like The Ghost of Yotsuya and Kuroneko to its resurgence in the 90’s and 00’s with Ringu, Ju-On and many others, many people were flocking into the theater. And ironically flocking out of the theater too after the films finish. But like all trends in film, all the juice is squeezed out for all of its worth and now we have inferior, and quite frankly, crappy so-called horror films like Sadako 3D, The Shock Labyrinth and Ghost Theater, which I have comprehensively slaughtered. But that’s another review. Now we have The Inerasable; Yoshihiro Nakamura’s first venture into horror since his ghostly contained thriller, The Booth. Applying his vast and ambitious storytelling in the horror genre, will he create a thriller that will stick in the minds of audiences or will it be something the audience would want completely erased from their minds?
Kubo (Ai Hashimoto) is a university student who is studying architecture and she has recently moved into an apartment complex for travel conveniences. While studying one night, she hears strange noises coming from the living room every time she has her sights elsewhere. Noticing an old-fashioned clothing garment moving in and out of the shadows, Kubo is understandably a little bit concerned. She writes a letter to a popular writer (Yuko Takeuchi) who is famous for her crime stories and mystery novels. Seeing this as the perfect jump-start for a new novel, she helps Kubo to investigate the strange happenings. But what starts out as straightforward with simple solutions, it is implied that no tragic circumstances have happened anywhere near the apartment, nor did anything similar happen in recent history. Not willing to back out from certain intrigue (or even a fight), the two keep on investigating until their findings lead them to a backstory that gradually turns out to be more tragic, disturbing and far vaster than anyone would have expected.
After my disappointment of watching Yoshihiro Nakamura’s other film of 2016, The Magnificent Nine, and the present state of J-Horror, I didn’t have much high hopes of watching The Inerasable. But after seeing it, the film surprised me in many ways. One way is how Nakamura’s approach to the ghost story is surprisingly self-referential. It is then that it results in some amusing observations of the J-Horror genre (thanks to Kenichi Takito who plays the writer’s husband) as well as many opportunities taken to subvert horror tropes and cliches, like the story unraveling through cliches like noises signifying suicide or properties build over a place of death. Or how the characters react in the story, which is not as loud and exaggerated as one would expect. If anything, the characters are a lot more accepting of the paranormal events, since they are more self-aware of it.
All tropes and cliches are prodded and subverted, but not in a post-modern or wink-wink way, and the film is all the better for it. There’s a wonderful flashback sequence where the story goes back to the 1950’s and the cinematography (thanks to talented cinematographer Yukihiro Okimura) changes to evoke that time period (i.e. old film stock), as well as the sound design (i.e. ONE channel sound). Okimura’s compositions always change when the film changes time-periods and it is very effective in story immersion as well as adding to the realism of the story. Another surprise is Nakamura’s approach to scares, which is surprisingly old-fashioned and realistic. The film’s scary moments rely more on sound and the power of suggestion, rather than jump scares and bombastic music. A silhouette seen through a window, talking in understated manner while accompanied with a lack of a musical score is scarier than a lazy and loud jump scare that you can just interject in the film without effort.
The acting from the two lead actresses certainly contribute to the film. Between this and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2016 film Creepy, Yuko Takeuchi is venturing into dark roles and it is a thrill to watch. Helped by a pair of glasses, Takeuchi nails her nameless character with aplomb, conveying the character’s intellect with utter sincerity. Ai Hashimoto, who’s been a star on the rise since Tetsuya Nakashima’s 2010 film Confessions, she is maturing to be a fine actress, as she acts out her character’s maturity and insatiable interest in the paranormal events like a pro. All the supporting cast are fine in their roles, but it is the two actresses that stand-out and rightfully so.
As much as the refreshing approach to the story goes, it does come with a few caveats. One, the story does get quite a bit convoluted with its numerous amount of ghost stories (though you can narrow it down to FOUR), it does get a bit rough to get into. It starts to feel like an anthology of sorts (which director Nakamura has worked on vast amounts of) but somehow, all the stories connect in the end, which is a feat to behold. Two, those expecting a full scary blowout will be a bit disappointed, since Nakamura relies more on an understated approach as opposed to films like Ju-On. It is reminiscent of a similar approach to his recent films like Prophecy and The Snow White Murder Case. But those who go along for the ride will be rewarded with a spectacularly creepy climax that subverts the typical endings of Japanese horror films.
The Inerasable is a great film that is buoyed by two good leading performances and Nakamura’s assured hand to subvert J-Horror tropes and cliches to create a part meta-horror experience and part crime procedural that is refreshingly smart.
Good leading performances
Nakamura’s refreshing approach to storytelling of ghost stories
Nice subversion of horror tropes and cliches
A spectacularly creepy climax
Understated approach to achieving scares and tension works
The story can be quite convoluted due to numerous subplots
May be a bit to subtle and understated for those who are accustomed to the usual horror genre fare
Cast: Yuko Takeuchi, Ai Hashimoto, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Kentaro Sakaguchi, Kenichi Takito, Erika Shumoto
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Screenwriters: Kenichi Suzuki, based on the novel “Zang-e” by Fuyumi Ono