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A psychic housewife and her husband become burdened with a kidnapped girl who escaped her assailant. Junko will not let her husband call the hospital or the police for purely selfish reasons. The girl dies while still in their house and her ghost begins to haunt not only Junko but also her husband, Sato (Koji Yakusho). Written by
I love this as a standalone film, but it's a remake, and it's in that function that I find in it a near-apotheosis for Kurosawa's perception, his personal idiosynchracy. In the Bryan Forbes film it's human machination that sets the kidnapping plot in motion, cunning and deception, in Kurosawa's remake it's happenstance, random cruelty. I love the ways in which the remake updates the original Seance on a Wet Afternoon because they're essentially noir as opposed to Hitchcock, mostly because I can recognize the kharmic wheels of fate grinding out a nemesis divina in an uncertain universe which nevertheless is not indifferent to human suffering.
One scene particularly stands out for me in that regard, when the couple discover the young girl inexplicably lyind dead on the floor.
Kurosawa highlights this set up with classical devices of theater, rain and lightning, the acceptable and expected portents of doom, but most importantly, with a cinema of utter, eerie, silence. It's not only that the girl's death is presented like an act of divine retribution, but also that it's quietly accepted as such. The lack of palpable explanation is not mentioned by the characters because, ostensibly, they understand the presence of the figurative devil exacting his dues, as do we. No quarter is given them but none is asked either, and the fatalism of that acceptance stirs things in me.
This of course is foreshadowed earlier in the film. Unlike the original Seance, the couple in the Kurosawa version simply discover the little girl in their house. The folly of keeping with them the girl for own reasons is not a mere scheme for glory but a yearning for a life that matters, for a small moment of feeling useful.
The contrast is quietly heartwrenching, a tragedy, between a cold futile universe and the ordinary couple trying to make sense in it. The Shinto priest the husband calls on to perform an exorcism, tells him that hell exists if you believe in it, it doesn't if you don't. For them, hell exists because they're open to the possibility.
Is the ghostly presence in the film a hijink then, a kind of superfluous spectacle to make palatable the more important things? Yes and no. Ghosts in Shinto folk wisdom are a transmutation of guilt, of bad kharma, but also an aesthetic object of terror. This was never more apparent than with the advent of cinema. Nobuo Nakagawa's novelty of retelling the worn out story of Yotsuya is the filming of his ghosts through torquoise color filters, years before Bava or Corman. Their presence in film serves as both reminder and titilation. Seance gives the ghostly kid character, her haunting makes a difference because it's the haunting of a child. When she menacingly approaches the husband, we expect a certain kind of violence. Instead she merely pounces on him with the impotent anger of a child.
Kurosawa sees himself as nothing more than a genre director. In films like Retribution, I see a director merely trying to break apart convention, for the pleasure or routine of it. Seance is a rare gem in this regard, it ventures for a look beyond the pale, the anguish and damnation of its horror echo through time. The parable matters because it talks of existence.
Still, the man gives us a brilliant genre touch: the medium who can see the dead and be haunted by them but can't speak to them. The existential reading of this can be valuable if we arrive to it by our own admission.
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