Creepy aka Kurîpî: Itsuwari no rinjin (2016)
Dir Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Chihiro Ikeda based on Kurīpī by Yutaka Maekawa
Starring Hidetoshi Nishijima,Yuko Takeuchi, Teruyuki Kagawa
I’ve been seeing some reviews calling CREEPY a “return to form” for director Kiyoshi “Not Akira. No, not even related. Do Americans ask the same question about Tim and Woody Allen?” Kurosawa. It has been awhile since the revered horror auteur (of such acknowledged modern classics as CURE, PULSE) returned to the genre that made his name -- since 2006’s RETRIBUTION, in fact. Since then he’s been playing around with different genre variations --icy familial drama in TOKYO SONATA, mind-bendy sci-fi in REAL, action-thriller in SEVENTH CODE, romance in JOURNEY TO THE SHORE-- and only briefly dabbled in the icy, ambiguous dread that was once his bread and butter in his terrific 2012 mini-series Penance (which came out in this country only last year, when I hailed it collectively as one of the best ‘films’ of the 2015). So it is a return of sorts, and quite a triumphant one at that; probably his best in a decade. But it’s also not quite like anything he’s ever done before, indulging in a surprisingly crowdpleasing straightforwardness (at least superficially) which has never been entirely absent from his work, but is seldom so dominant as it is here. It’s recognizably Kurosawa in every frame, but it’s definitely the great artist on his best behavior, perhaps hoping to craft something a little more accessible than the surreal, impenetrable nightmares which defined his work (but also pigeon-holed his career) in the last 90’s and early 00’s.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, because this is a expertly crafted and --well-- creepy little serial killer yarn, making the most of the conventions of that particular subgenre while also offering just a light taste of that dreamy unease that you want out of a Kurosawa movie. It concerns ex-detective Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima, Takeshi Kitano’s DOLLS, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s LOFT and one of his his first, pre-horror movies, LICENSE TO LIVE) who has taken a cushy professorship out in the suburbs after a tragic workplace misjudgement. But of course, he’s gonna get pulled back into the detective game for a mysterious cold case by a former colleague (Masahiro Higashide, former model and star of the unasked-for live action DEATH NOTE sequel LIGHT UP THE NEW WORLD) despite the protestations of his lonely wife (Yuko Takeuchi, holy cow, she was the first victim in the original RINGU!). But while Takakura is snooping around old crime sites, his wife is finding the new neighbors to be unfriendly to the point of hostility, particularly the socially awkward, implacably threatening Mr. Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa, DEVILS ON THE DOORSTEP, TOKYO SONATA, Takashi Shimizu’s TORMENTED). Are Takakura’s increasing suspicions about this creepy weirdo justified --or, perhaps, related to his other investigation-- or is he just starting to crack up and let his obsession with his work bleed into his personal life?
For a long time, CREEPY isn’t telling. At its best, it beautifully marries Kurosawa’s mastery of slow, disquieting insinuation with the more visceral punch of a plot that actually posits a specific, tangible threat. The director has always had an intuitive, vividly cinematic sense of the medium, but is most known for patient (and, to some audiences, patience-testing), mysterious and quiet horror which eschews the expected horror stings and money shots the genre usually relies on. Here, with a more concrete and --at least in some ways-- conventional horror structure (co-written by the director but with a plot borrowed from the 2012 novel Kurīpī by Yutaka Maekawa) Kurosawa subtly showcases his more accessible side, moving along at a steady pace, keeping the camera nimbly in motion (even indulging in a show-offy drone shot which drifts endlessly skyward) and making room for an uncharacteristically bossy and present score by Yuri Habuka (mostly Japanese TV, in his first collaboration with the director). I’d almost be willing to call sellout, except that Kurosawa turns out to be so good at it; there’s an effortless, Spielbergian quality on display here, the work of a true master of moving pictures who knows exactly when to linger and when to cut, when to go for an intense close angle and when to hang back and watch dispassionately. In a way it’s no surprise; we got to see the more entertainment-friendly side of the director as far back as SWEET HOME in 1989, and more recently in the weirdo dinosaur battle that ends REAL. It’s always been there, but it’s not his usual speed. That a guy as good as Kurosawa is capable of this seems completely natural; the fact that he seems so comfortable with it is a little more surprising after a career doing mostly the exact opposite. But if the last decade of his career has taught us anything, it’s that he has some range.
Even so, it’s good to see him back in the more disreputable genres again. Unfortunately, after an absolutely masterful slow burn, tension-building run, the movie doesn’t quite nail the finale. Revealing the answers is always a harder trick than milking the mystery, and although CREEPY’s conclusion is not lacking in harrowing moments (the killer has a particular method for disposing of bodies which is likely to linger in your subconscious for quite a while), it treads water a bit too long after the big reveal, repeating story beats without really escalating and resulting in a few too many false starts and stops just as things ought to be spiraling out of control. None of it is bad at all -- in fact, it’s all exceedingly well executed, assuming you’re willing to accept some typically silly serial-killer-movie logic. But there’s no getting around the fact that the finale could stand to lose an easy 15-20 minutes of its extended final act without sacrificing anything in terms of payoff or tension. This is almost certainly a result of fidelity to the novel it’s based on, but as a film it would benefit enormously from a streamlining of the conflict at the end, so that the reveal and the final struggle build off each other rather than strand themselves with a few too many complicating wrinkles sown between them. In a movie which is all about slowly turning the screws, that serves to deflate things a little, though the final resolution still packs a real wallop.
That’s a minor complaint, though, in a film which is otherwise about as marvelously assembled as you’re ever likely to find in this genre. The cast --given a bit more room to emote than is customary for a Kurosawa joint-- really excels here, particularly Kagawa in the showy role of the unstable neighbor. Nishijima plays a more typically reserved Kurosawa lead (in a role which seems tailor-made for usual Kurosawa stand-in Kōji Yakusho) with a hangdog world-weariness that gives the whole film a lingering sense of stagnant entropy, lending a note of odd sadness which only starts to make sense towards the end of the film, as Takeuchi gets to show off just how deeply her husband’s alienation has been hurting her. If the story ever threatens to get unworkably unlikely, the cast ensures that there’s a relatable human heart that keeps you invested, which is a rarity in horror movies in general and an almost unique move for Kurosawa. And it adds up to an absolutely gripping, deeply unnerving serial killer flick which seems likely to become something of a modern classic if more widespread audiences ever discover it. If CREEPY is perhaps a bit too insubstantial to be considered among the great works of a nearly peerless auteur, it’s still one of the very strongest mainstream horror movies of the year, and a testament to the potency even the played-out serial killer genre can still have in the hands of a true master craftsman.
CHAINSAWNUKAH 2016 CHECKLIST!
Good Kill Hunting
Kurîpî: Itsuwari no rinjin
The poster says, That Man Isn’t My Father. He’s a Total Stranger. Which is a weird tagline in the extreme, especially since there’s nothing on the poster to explain who is saying this or who he or she is talking about. It makes more sense in the movie, but I’m not convinced these ad guys understand what a tagline is, exactly.
Definitely creepy, although that’s a fucking stupid title in English (I believe the original title, Kurîpî, is an English loan word --”Creepy” written phonetically in Japanese-- but although the translation is correct I don’t think it has the same punch in its native language, and regardless is an impossibly generic title for an interesting movie.)
Yes, from the 2012 mystery novel by Yutaka Maekawa, which does not have an English version that I could locate.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
No one is slumming in a Kiyoshi Kurosawa production.
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
While there’s a sexually threatening element here, it’s never made explicit
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
GHOST/ ZOMBIE / HAUNTED BUILDING?
(VAGUE SPOILERS) sort of, actually, although not in the usual way.
Yes, there’s definitely a crazy person here, and an implication that other people may be close to or over the edge by the end.
MORAL OF THE STORY
Japanese cops really need to get better about calling for backup.