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A detective investigates a series of murders. A possible serial killer might be on a rampage, since they all are in the same vicinity and by the same method, but as the evidence points toward the detective as the prime suspect, a ghost in red follows him, and he begins to question his identity. His realization of what seems to have really happened results in something much more sinister and larger in scope, and it leaves his psyche scarred. Written by
Another excellent example of Japanese horror to be misunderstood and rejected by the masses
I am a huge fan of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's work and I also greatly admire Koji Yakusho as well. Ironically it was his performance in Warai no Daigaku cemented my admiration. None the less, seeing both of these talented people partner up for a film filled me with anticipation. Before seeing Sakebi I knew that it would not be along the lines of other genre mates like Juon or Chakushinari. I also knew that the film would be carried over to the West on the wings of Hollywood remake hype and be marketed as the "scariest thing ever".
Well those advertising execs have to learn that the definition of "scary" in the West, particularly nowadays, is a heck of a lot more literal and straight to the point: the ghost appears, augmented by all manner of cgi effects, just in case we didn't realise her nature, and then cue loud audio cue, "boo!". Was it as scary for you as it was for me? It also seems that knowing everything that there possibly is to know about a ghost apparently makes the whole situation more frightening.
It exasperates me that today's spoon-fed audience chalk up anything inexplicable or mysterious about a film as bad writing and direction. As far as these viewers are concerned, mysteries are OK as long as they are smart enough to work them out, crying out "I didn't pay to be confused" as they eject the DVD in perplexed disgust.
Which leads me to the film in question. The tag-line "There is no escape from the ultimate retribution" should have been saved for the next regurgitation of Friday The 13th. A film such as Sakebi deserves promotion targeting a much more sophisticated audience. Where are the people that enjoyed Don't Look Now, one of most effective and haunting supernatural thrillers ever made? They aren't going to see a film with a tag-line that could have been made from some university student's Internet horror tag-line generator.
But it seems that I have typed so much and barely touched on the film itself. I won't go into the story more than just to say that it revolves around the investigation into a series of similar murders occurring largely in and around the coastal landfill and reclamation areas of Tokyo. This setting lends the film a strong sense of isolation, and the characters reflect that. Thematically, Sakebi deals with loneliness and abandonment, which while not new for the horror genre, Kurosawa gives them a breath of life.
There is much about this film that strays from genre trappings, and there is perhaps equally as much that stays within them. However, ultimately this is a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film and it isn't going to appeal to everyone. Its stillness and reflection will turn off many viewers, as will its unwillingness to lift the curtain and expose the workings of story. Terrible acts shown in long shots give us a feeling of helpless voyeurism, with no fast editing or closeups to remind us that we are watching a film. The film's score is so unobtrusive that I can't really recall even hearing it, and most of the film is on a background of ambient sound.
But perhaps it is Kurosawa's trademark of staying with the characters and rejecting the God's Eye View of the story that will perplex and affront viewers the most. There is an expectation that at least we should be let in on the secret and know more than the characters do. We are smarter than they are, aren't we? But why should we know? Life is full of mysteries, irrationality and actions with unknown motives. We can't even explain why a man kills his whole family and them himself, so how can we hope to know the motivations of a restless spirit.
I think that this touches on something important: people WANT to know why people do terrible things and the confessions of a ghost are the ultimate revelation. Horror, like science fiction are so often reflections of the fears and insecurities of our time. We can't explain the tragedies around us, but maybe through the genre of horror we can try to come to terms with them.
On the other hand, for some reason, more than likely cultural, Japanese horror does away with the naivety that we could somehow fathom the ultimate mysteries of death. Instead it shows us something bleak and inevitable, far beyond our knowledge and understanding. Something that has transcended our existence, yet profoundly affects us. Japanese horror reminds us that we don't have as tight a grip on the universe as we like to believe, and that bothers some people.
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