My notes on Kyoshi Kurosawa’s Kurîpî: Itsuwari no rinjin (Creepy), which played at Fantasia.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa may well be the best, most important horror director currently working at the top of his game. His best-known film is Kairo (Pulse), which went the disappointing English language remake route, though he has divided his time between genre work and art film releases (Tokyo Sonata, Journey to the Shore). The bulk of his filmography consists of ambitious, unsettling, distinctive dark thrillers or paranormal shockers: Séance, Charisma, Eyes of the Spider, Serpent’s Path Cure, Doppelganger, Ghost Cop, Loft, Shriek.
Based on a novel Yutaka Maekawa, Creepy is a slow-burning story of obsessions – with a haunted ex-cop (a typical Kurosawa protagonist) focusing on an unsolved case that literally hits close to home as he is drawn into the world of the psychopath who lives next door. It hinges on a coincidence arbitrary enough to suggest malign fate and takes its time getting under the skin before setting out exactly the methodology of its supremely hateful villain. Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima), an ex-detective-turned-lecturer, is approached by an old colleague who is intrigued by a cold case – the disappearance of three members of a family, with the teenage girl left behind giving odd, contradictory statements that mean the incident was filed as an abandonment rather than possible murder. As Takakura picks at the threads of the old investigation, his fragile wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) tries to settle into their new neighbourhoood, making friendly overtures which provoke disturbing responses. However, she does strike up an acquaintance with Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa), who behaves very strangely – see-sawing between paranoid aggression and overfamiliar friendliness, and acting mysterious about his supposedly confined-to-her-home-by-depression wife. His daughter, who seems a possible twin to the left-behind girl in the cold case, takes Takakura aside and claims that Nishino isn’t her father … but the ‘tec is so focused on the gruesome discoveries he makes on the case that he doesn’t twig until way too late that a similar grotesque tragedy is playing out in his own backyard.
It’s obvious from early on that Nishino is responsible for the earlier disappearances – the missing folks turn up mummified in shrink-wrap plastic in the house next door to theirs, along with other corpses – but it takes a while to catch on to his full m.o. Kurosawa is great on ominous hints – like the airy, ordinary reception area of a house which is otherwise all iron shutters and decaying walls … the flashes of ape-aggression Nishino gives out when he is questioned or threatened, always followed by a wheedling cajoling leer … and the way that the hero’s singlemindedness tells against him, as he neglects his wife to the point that they both, along with their dog, are in danger of falling into the traps of a maniac who is also ultra-cunning. Just when it seems Takakura has inarguable evidence, the police show up – called by Nishino – to take him into custody as a stalker, leaving the villain free to continue his whiny, ruthless, passive-aggressive reign of terror.
Kagawa is, aptly, one of the creepiest screen villains to come along in a while – he’d make an interesting double bill partner with Mark Duplass’s similarly overbearing, unusual human monster in Creep. Kurosawa plays the story out at well over two supsnseful hours, with a coda that piles on the agony, stressing his frequent theme that curiosity is also blindness. A disntinguishing factor in the director’s work is that his protagonists are complicated but not entirely likeable – exploring the notion of the detective being complicit with the criminal. Here, as often, it’s the hero’s dependents who suffer the most for his flaws – Takeuchi, who gets very much the short end of any stick going, is remarkably good in a difficult role, especially since some crucial stretches of her character arc have to take place offscreen.