A young hot blank dude (Nightmare Detective Ryuhei Matsuda) is found wandering with amnesia and returned to his wife Narumi (Masami Nagasawa of Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister). Blank teen boy Amano (also the name of my favorite sandwich place) recruits dickhead reporter Sakurai (Sion Sono’s Fuck Bomber) to help him locate a blank girl (Yuri Tsunematsu, also in Wife of a Spy) at the center of a recent crime.

Blank Nightmare Detective backed by choir:

But the blank trio are really aliens, learning about human concepts on their way to build a device from scavenged parts that will invite global destruction. The boy and girl finally meet, ruining a cop’s sense of self over wacky comedy-suspense music. The reporter is surveilled by Ministry of Health officers in an unmarked van. Gunfights and CG explosions ensue, and none of it’s very good, ruining my plans to follow this with the miniseries spinoff Foreboding.

Reporter, blank girl, and blank boy with machine gun:

Katy’s Criterion Channel pick is my first Kiyoshi in a few years, having skipped the alien visitation movies. I found it barely recognizable as a Kiyoshi, not sensing the horror atmosphere that others mentioned in reviews. A few days in the life of Yoko, on location in Uzbekistan with an easily defeated TV crew (when one segment falls through they don’t have any backup plans, hadn’t even read Lonely Planet: Tashkent on the plane). They each become familiar over the fairly long 120 minutes: director, cameraman, flunky, and translator – though the viewer is always on Yoko’s side (Seventh Code star Atsuko Maeda).

The movie gives us a symbolic goat which the TV crew pays to free, then pays again after it gets recaptured, then Yoko sees it in the hills at the end. The one time the camerawork feels complex is when Yoko wanders into an opera house and gets jump-cut between ornate rooms before finding herself both in the seats and onstage. After visualizing her inner yearning, KK shows the absolute lack of imagination of her coworkers – the translator suggests shooting in that opera house, explains its specifically Japanese origin and his rich emotional history with the place, and the director shrugs it off, saying their viewers wouldn’t care.

Opens with a psychokinetic woman reading Bluebeard, then a guy kills someone with a pipe to happy upbeat music. I haven’t seen this since it came out, and didn’t remember most of it, except that the whole movie takes place in shabby, leaky buildings.

Takabe (the great Kôji Yakusho – he’ll always be “Ship Captain in Pulse” to me) investigates the pipe murder and finds the killer immediately. Then a guy kills his wife, a cop shoots his partner, each admits their crime and says it felt like the right thing to do at the time, and they’d all been in contact with a wandering amnesiac (Masato Hagiwara: Café Lumière, Chaos), a psychology dropout who got deep into hypnotism and occult psychotherapy. “All the things that used to be inside me… now they’re all outside.”

Peter Labuza on letterboxd:

While the film is told in long takes, these takes are given a mundane design. The initial scene at the beach is one of the most frightening moments in the film without anything in the frame to suggest that this moment is frightening. Characters are relaxedly placed in the frame, not tightly ordered, and the way that the antagonist controls his doomed subjects is through commonplace lighters and glasses of water. Kurosawa emphasizes their importance the first time in the frame, but then allows them to stand as far back in the frame as possible otherwise, letting our own paranoid spectatorship create the fear than letting the camera do it. Cure‘s mise-en-scene does everything possible to tell you “this is not a horror movie,” in the same way that the hypnotized have no understanding of the atrocities they are forced to commit.

Better than Creepy, this is K.K. in arthouse French festival mode.

Stéphane (Olivier Gourmet of all the Dardenne movies) is an eccentric whose giant glass plate photographs are only still in demand by a few connoisseurs, so he spends most of his time in the basement photographing his daughter Marie (Constance Rousseau of Simon Killer) in uncomfortable poses for increasingly long exposures, trying to capture the ineffable. He hires Jean (Tahar Rahim, main dude in A Prophet) as a new assistant, which may have been a bad move – don’t hire someone who’s gonna covertly call an auction house to appraise all your belongings.

For the most part, the film follows Jean as he falls for Marie, who wants to move away from the lonely basement photo sessions and start her own life working at a botanical garden. Jean is a bit of a scam artist, and helps her out by scheming to coerce her dad into selling his estate, for which Jean will get a commission that they can live on together. But the schemes don’t totally make sense, and time goes by and things get weird. It’s not a tight Chabrolian thriller, but something more diffuse. Eventually Marie appears to have died in two separate incidents (a stairs tumble, a car crash), but she still appears real to Jean, and Stéphane’s long-dead wife reappears as a Pulse-referencing slow-motion spirit.

Originally titled Le secret de la chambre noire, I watched this right after Creepy. Since Before We Vanish, K.K. has already released its extended semi-remake Foreboding. The others I missed since Tokyo Sonata include Real (Inception-y romance), Seventh Code (an hourlong paranoid thriller), and Penance (a murder-guilt anthology miniseries).

I’d put off watching K. Kurosawa’s most generically named film, which got his most average reviews, until I accidentally missed our only screening of Before We Vanish, then feeling the sudden Kurosawa drought, I double-featured this with Daguerrotype and now I’m satisfied. It is, however, a pretty average movie. Either the subtitles are wack or the movie is purposely being strange in its dialogue and social interactions, because everyone seems kinda stupid.

Opens with a bad hostage standoff in a police station, an unassuming-looking psycho killing a couple of people and stabbing serial-killer expert Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima, main dude from Dolls, the editor in Loft) in the ass with a fork, causing him to have to leave the force and become a professor, moving into a suburb next door to a serial killer. He and his wife Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi of Ring) introduce themselves to Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa, dad in Tokyo Sonata, sheriff of Sukiyaki Western Django), a certified crazy with a shy daughter who turns out to be kidnapped, her mom drugged-out in his Silence of the Lambs basement. Tak’s ex-partner Nogami (Masahiro Higashide, a pastor in Before We Vanish) wants to get Tak back into action, bringing him a cold case of the serial killer who happens to live next door, and it’s all feeling a bit ludicrous, like K.K. is bringing together these stock situations and crazy coincidences to make some sort of statement.

new neighbors:

everything is perfectly normal here!

Progress is made on the cold case, bodies of the missing discovered shrink-wrapped in a neighbor’s house, while Tak’s own neighbor is shrinkwrapping the now-dead parents of his fake daughter. Nishino has been keeping his hostages docile with a never-explained mind-control drug, and his TV constantly plays squid footage (a Bright Future reference?). After the neighbor kid starts to bond with Tak’s own wife, she is inevitably kidnapped, as is Tak himself, until they turn the tables on their tormentor by only pretending to have been drugged, then blowing him away. K.K. the director comes through in fine form, but K.K. the writer, sheesh.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky in AV Club:

Bug-eyed and clammy, Nishino belongs in the pantheon of next-door weirdos, swishing from personably awkward to coldly standoffish as though they were steps in a waltz that only he can hear. Kagawa, who starred in Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata as a white-collar family man with a very different type of secret, is a marvel to watch; when Nishino and Takakura run into each other on a commuter train, he gives a grimacing courtesy smile that falls somewhere in the uncanny valley.

Mike D’Angelo:

Creepy is at its best when things are just…slightly…off, a quality embodied in everything from Teruyuki Kagawa’s Asperger-y performance to the proximity in which two characters are standing at the beginning of a shot … Were I capable of ignoring Creepy‘s outlandish, frequently nonsensical plot and focusing entirely on Kurosawa’s control of the frame and tone, we’d be in business here. But I’m not.

Hard to believe I haven’t seen a new Kiyoshi Kurosawa movie since the great Tokyo Sonata. Starting to catch up, but I hope that’s worth doing. I enjoy a slow-boil movie, but this one just kinda stayed lukewarm. Interesting stylistic choices for a 2013 ghost movie – from a director who has sometimes over-relied on horrid digital effects, this uses none. Ghosts appear as regular people, no indications of who is living or dead, and their appearances or other otherworldly happenings are signaled by slow lighting changes.

Lonely piano teacher Mizuki (Eri Fukatsu of Atlanta Boogie) is visited by her long-missing husband Yûsuke (Tadanobu Asano of Bright Future and Last Life in the Universe) who explains that he drowned at sea three years ago. He says it was a long trip back to her, and people helped him along the way, and he’d like them to revisit those people together.

At Shimakage’s house, pre-collapse:

Yûsuke in teacher mode:

First is Mr. Shimakage, who is dead and does not realize this. Yûsuke’s visit with Mizuki brings back memories of his wife, which allow him to let go and disappear, his house becoming decrepit overnight. Next, the Jinnai family, who are alive but have a sad ghostly relative psychically tied to their piano. Then Mizuki meets Tomoko, with whom Yûsuke was having an affair while alive. Then at a village where Yûsuke had been a teacher, Mizuki briefly meets her dead father, and their host Kaoru briefly meets her dead husband (who was flown in from a darker, more interesting movie).

Mizuki and the Dead Father:

I’m pleased that a shy Japanese piano teacher would listen to Sonic Youth:

M. D’Angelo:

I’d planned to write at least a few words about Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s almost surreally boring Journey to the Shore, which multiple critics here have dubbed Journey to the Snore. Trouble is, just thinking about the film makes me nod off, making it difficult to formulate any thoughts.

A middling haunted-house movie, with none of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s post-Cure style of evil lurking in the offscreen space. Some inspired moments, and some cinematic plot points (living shadows, a slide melting under a projector bulb, an actor melting in much the same way). Apparently the movie is most famous for having spawned a “survival horror” Nintendo game which inspired the Resident Evil series. Also the last time Juzo Itami (Japanese New Wave actor, more recently in Grass Labyrinth) appeared as an actor, having already turned to directing with Tampopo and a few others. I assumed that he played Old Man Exposition, the local crank who helps out at the end, but no that was Tsutomu Yamazaki, an actor in Tampopo, so I don’t know where Itami showed up.

not Juzo Itami:

A TV production talks their way into the long-abandoned mansion of a dead artist to document the murals he’d painted on his walls. Widower Kazuo (Shingo Yamashiro of some Kinji Fukasaku movies) is the show’s producer. He brings along his daughter Emi (pop singer Nokko – in her mid-20’s, but I bought her performance as a middle-schooler) and show director Akiko (Nobuko Miyamoto, also of Tampopo) – our family-unit heroes, which leaves the other two (driver/cameraman/comic relief Taguchi and melodramatic on-air personality Asuka) to be murdered by ghosts.

L-R: Asuka, Taguchi, surrogate mom, actual dad, “child”:

And murdered they are, with surprisingly good, goopy gore effects. First Asuka turns into a ghost, yelling “give me back my baby” then digging up an actual baby coffin. Then the shadows come to life, so they all have to hide in patches of light. Taguchi doesn’t make it, gets burned clean in half and Asuka finishes him with a wrench shortly before an axe falls on her head.

Akiko vs. furnace:

Old Man Exposition comes to the house and walks into the furnace to rescue Emi, kidnapped by ghosts. But either he fails or she’s kidnapped again, and her dad gives up, leaving Akiko to rescue the girl, proving herself a worthy wife/mother figure. I did like the evil-mother monster who fights her with lightning there at the end.

Shot by the cinematographer of Loft and Retribution. Classy, austere-looking locked-down long shots hiding behind shelves and banisters made me think this is Kurosawa’s prestige pic, hence the jury prize at Cannes and the great reviews. Closest in tone to his Bright Future, which is also the last movie of Kurosawa’s which played here theatrically, but with no sign of the crazy left turns, the never-answered questions that make his other films so maddeningly mysterious. One thing that makes this easily fit in with the rest of his movies, though, is the theme of people not connecting or communicating, not really knowing each other or themselves, as Japan crumbles around them. Kurosawa doesn’t seem like a very happy guy – but this film has a happy ending, probably his most hopeful one ever.

I recognized star Teruyuki Kagawa but couldn’t think which of K.K.’s movies he’d been in – turns out he’s the main dude in the earthquake/agoraphobia section of Tokyo! and the sheriff in Sukiyaki Western Django. Sasaki-san is a middle manager type, and when the company is reorganizing with layoffs, his boss asks him what skills he has, so he can be used elsewhere in the company. He gets up and starts packing. Much of the movie manages this balance between deadpan humor and realistic tragi-drama.


Back home to older son Takashi (Yû Koyanagi of Crows Zero), an absentee teen fuckup who decides to join the U.S. military, younger son Kenji who only wants to take piano lessons, and wife/mother Megumi who quietly tolerates all of this (and suspects her husband’s job problems) without getting any breaks or chances to express herself. Dad forbids Kenji from learning piano and gets increasingly obstinate about it, fearing a breakdown of his parental authority, so the boy takes lessons in secret. Sasaki waits in line regularly at the employment agency, hangs out at the mall, and eats lunch from a homeless/unemployed trailer every day with his laid-off buddy who has become an expert at living off his severance pay and lying to his wife.


As time passes, the movie gets harsher. Megumi has nightmares of her oldest son returning home shellshocked (the only dream/fantasy scene in the film), Sasaki takes a demeaning job as a janitor and when he finds out about Kenji’s piano lessons he knocks the kid down the stairs sending him to the hospital. One day K.K.’s favorite actor Kôji Yakusho (star of Charisma, Cure, Doppelganger, Retribution), a depressed ex-locksmith who decides crime is the answer to his life problems, breaks into their home and kidnaps Megumi. He’s a crappy kidnapper, but he offers her a temporary escape – she meets her husband and learns about the janitor job, then spends the rest of the day enjoying her freedom from family with the kidnapper.


In the morning it looks like he’s drowned himself. Returning home are the wife (who slept in a shack on the beach), her husband (who slept in the gutter, knocked down by a car while running from the mall) and Kenji (who slept in jail). Flash-forward, dad seems content at his job, mom is getting letters from Takashi, and Kenji rocks his piano recital. And thank god, because I was going to be angry at the movie if it had ended ten minutes earlier.


Good ones from Cinema Scope: “The outline of Kurosawa’s design is as powerful as some of the particulars within are slightly uncertain.” and on the ending as the parents proudly walk Kenji away from the piano, “Years from now, when someone goes looking for the cinematic moment that most fully embodied this troubled stretch of history, they will undoubtedly settle on this forcefully ambiguous gesture.”

Greencine: “Kurosawa’s framing is always a bit cluttered and claustrophobic, and his willingness to sit and watch for a little too long makes it seem like violent disaster is always just on the verge of breaking out. And then suddenly it does and all hell breaks out.”

Tom Mes, who should know:

Anyone familiar with Kurosawa’s body of work will know that it is often the very real ills of society and its people that give his films their power and their chill: the balding middle-aged man muttering to himself while waiting for his dry-cleaning in Cure, the lack of eye contact in dialogue scenes in Pulse, or the way a husband and wife brush reason aside in Séance. … Tokyo Sonata contains many examples of simple, mundane incidents – family dinners, job interviews, scenes from a mall and walks in the park – but they are charged with a power to distress that is unparalleled even in Kurosawa’s oeuvre. … The world has finally caught up with the films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and it’s a horrifying, frightening sight to behold. Tokyo Sonata would be unbearable if it weren’t the director’s masterpiece.


This film will portray a very ordinary family in modern Japan. I start from a point where lies, suspicion and a complete breakdown of communication have already established themselves within the family. Without a doubt, this is ‘modern’ and this is also ‘Japan.’ However, I would like to show a glimmer of hope in the end. Can I do that? Even if I could do so, would that be something that can save a conventional family? I just do not know. Since I do not know, I have a strong desire to make this film.

I had to interrupt this movie the first night I watched it, and I finished it the next night. In between, I was at Acapella and picked up the book on K.K. by Jerry White and flipped to the back, where he calls this movie an utter failure of storytelling. I didn’t read any more, wanted no spoilers, but I hope White at least found something to like about this one, if not the story, because I liked it quite a lot, and thought it was better than Kurosawa’s follow-up Retribution.

Starring Miki Nakatani of the Ring series and Chaos, title star of Memories of Matsuko

It’s similar to Retribution… a ghost-revenge story with only a few characters set in old, run-down buildings with sudden shocks and supernatural occurrences in broad daylight. Atmosphere and cinematography (by the same guy as Retribution) are ace. Movie is horror, but it doesn’t seem to know that it’s horror. As with all of Kurosawa’s movies, the genre cliches aren’t there, the music and camera and lighting and characters don’t do what you’d expect. They do get panicked and frightened, but they’ll also walk knowingly into danger and stare at the ghosts, looking slightly sad or tired, not necessarily afraid. Very cool movie, not one of Kurosawa’s very best but it’s got me looking forward to Tokyo Sonata again.

At right, Reiko’s book editor Hidetoshi Nishijima, star of License to Live, Bug House and Kitano’s Dolls

The story is a little baffling, but KK also wrote Charisma, so baffling ain’t unusual. Reiko’s editor gets her a quiet place in the country where she can write her next book. She meets her neighbor Yoshioka, a university professor with a 1000-year-old mummy (which moves by itself occasionally) in his room. The professor isn’t sure if this is the same mummy that was dug up 80 years ago, but he watches a time-lapse film of that previous mummy just to confuse us a little more. We’re not sure if he’s dangerous or just a crappy professor, but he seems nice enough to Reiko.

The anthropologist is Etsushi Toyokawa of The Great Yokai War and Boiling Point

Besides the mummy moving about, Reiko is being haunted by the ghost of a young girl. Graves are dug, bodies are carried around, a foggy pier is discovered, Reiko is vomiting black mud (this was happening before she even moved into the house) and somehow Reiko gets her book written. Her editor shows up and terrorizes her for no clear purpose until it turns out he rented the same place to a previous writer (the young ghost-girl) and murdered her. Reiko would be next but the cops bust him just in time. She burns her book and Yoshioka burns the mummy. Then they go for a walk to the foggy pier, where the ghost knocks Yoshioka into the swampy water for some reason!

Spooky loft

The ghost/girl isn’t in every scene, she’s just somehow in all of my captures