A frustrated detective deals with the case of several gruesome murders committed by people who have no recollection of what they've done.A frustrated detective deals with the case of several gruesome murders committed by people who have no recollection of what they've done.A frustrated detective deals with the case of several gruesome murders committed by people who have no recollection of what they've done.
Kyua's austere landscapes are in fitful turns picture postcard beautiful, mundane and mysterious. Much of the story unfolds in master shots, keeping you at a distance from the characters and affording the illusion of a comfortable intellectual detachment which it meticulously strips away scene by scene.
The plot is deceptively simple; a weary Japanese Homicide detective is investigating a series of grotesque murders. Each murder seems to have the same ritualistic pattern, yet in each case the culprit turns out to be an ordinary individual, dazed and unable to offer any motive for their horrific crime. Nothing seems to connect the murderers to each other, until the Detective picks up the trail of an amnesia afflicted drifter who seems unable to answer even the simplest questions about himself, yet displays a disconcerting ability to reflect any line of questioning about his own identity back upon the questioner. Time and again he returns to a question at the core of the mystery:
"Who are you?"
It seems more and more, as the drifter is passed from detective, to guard, to clinician to pyschiatrist, that this question is far more dangerous than anyone might have guessed.
Kyua is a model of subtlety and restraint. Although there's a significant amount of implied violence and several shocking scenes of murder, these aren't gratuitous. Kyua's particular genius is it's ability to transform it's urban Japanese landscapes and even the most common objects from familiar to suspect and eventually sinister: a length of piping, a flashing traffic sign, a blast furnace, the sound of ocean surf at night, a flickering lighter, a dark apartment lined with academic tomes, a puddle of spilled water, the letter X smeared on a wall, a deserted rundown building.
There are few filmmakers with the audacity and imagination to venture into the places Kyua wants to take you. Fincher, Lynch and Cronenberg come to mind as those who time and time again have shown their willingness, and perhaps compulsion to return to the unsettling territory of perception, identity, and the boundary between normalcy and psychosis. If the director's first name were only David (it's not, his name is Kiyoshi Kurosawa) we'd have the makings of a good conspiracy theory here.
The film was released in 1997 but only recently has made it's way to western shores, and US distribution by Cowboy Pictures, and has wound its way inevitably to cable networks like Sundance. It's cast includes Koji Yakusho as the detective Takabe. Fans of Japanese cinema will recognize this fine actor from his award winning roles in "Shall we Dance" and "The eel".
Kyua isn't the type of visceral immediate drama that the average suspense film provides. If you can put aside your preconceived notions and allow it to unfold in it's own time, I suspect you will find the questions it asks and secrets it reveals to be all the more disquieting, problematic and in the end profound. Many critics have lined up to call this film a masterpiece, and pegged Kurosawa as one of a number of japanese directors worth watching.
- Aug 25, 2002