Kurosawa’s RUN!: Creepy Reviewed

Yasmeen Khan on director Kiyoshi Kurosawa's latest addition to the horror genre, the excellent Creepy

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s new psychological thriller Creepy investigates instinct. Like Kurosawa’s 1997 film Cure, Creepy is a hybrid of horror and crime story that plays both genres off against each other. Like Cure, it follows a traditional detective story path, but with a tone and atmosphere more like a modern ghost story. Both films concentrate on an increasingly paranoid detective who’s too in tune with the killers he chases, who becomes obsessed. This character type is popular in crime fiction – think of Will Graham’s struggles in Thomas Harris’s 1981 novel Red Dragon. Pursuit is corrosive, and the detective must sacrifice something of himself in order to catch the monsters he chases. A good detective story is always just as much about the psychology of the detective as it is about the killer, and Creepy is more interested in exploring why its detective chases killers than it is in showing us why the killers kill.

Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) was a detective in the Tokyo police force who took a special interest in the psychology of serial killers. His interest in understanding why these killers do what they do leads him into a stand-off with a psychopath, with tragic consequences that leave him mentally and physically scarred and end his police career.

A year later, Takakura has started lecturing on university criminology courses, and has moved to a new suburb with his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi). They’re dismayed to find out that their neighbours are not just quiet but actively unfriendly. In particular, the guy next door, Nishino (Teruyuki Kagwa) is downright weird and, yes, creepy. His demeanour changes from moment to moment, and each encounter with him is unsettling in a different way. He’s by turns distant, overfriendly, and threatening. More disturbingly, Yasuko’s reactions to Nishino’s inappropriate behaviour become unsettling, too. At first, her instinct is to fear what she doesn’t understand, but her trust of Nishino grows just as her husband’s suspicions do, and her behaviour begins to change in unpredictable ways.

Takakura isn’t at home much to notice, though, because his attention has been seized by an old mystery. A colleague at the university is fascinated not only by cold cases, but by Takakura’s past career as a detective. He persuades him to start looking into the disappearance of a family six years previously. With the help of a young detective still on the force, Takakura finds himself drawn deep into the case – and more and more disturbed by the ideas he’s having that his new, creepy neighbour Nishino is connected to it.

Creepy unfolds slowly and deliberately, the gradual reveal of the detective’s own neuroses growing and developing alog with the price he pays for following the case to its grim conclusion. The perfect psychopath that Takakura wants to find and study represents a monstrous other, an undifferentiated, generalised evil. Seeing killers this way is Takakura’s mistake. He should be looking at the peculiarities of each case, he should be learning from the individuality of the situation his wife is finding herself in. The contrast between the Takakuras’ experiences and the consequent dissolution of their security and peace of mind is at the centre of the film, as it should be.

It’s befitting, of course, that Creepy tries to be as unsettling as possible. Ordinary things are presented with a cast of otherness, like the wind disturbing the Nishino’s garden. The slightly odd, elevated camera angles help with the sense of disturbance, too, as do the lighting choices – there’s a great interrogation scene that starts out in natural daylight, and as the story being told gets more disturbing, so the lighting gets sicklier, as if a storm was coming on, and the room gets darker and darker, little by little, until you’re struggling to see what’s happening. It’s a good-looking, understated film.

Creepy is being positioned as the latest entry in the Japanese horror genre, and audiences will recognise the aesthetic of restrained domestic terror that it shares with, for example, the films of Hideo Nakata, including Ringu (1998) and Dark Water (2002) and Takashi Shimizu, for instance Ju-On: The Grudge (2002) and Marebito (2004). The aesthetic is one of contrast, building a film like a house with a pleasant exterior concealing strange, hidden spaces. The streets of suburban Tokyo are familiar to us from these kinds of films, and they have a very particular air of normality. These sunlit exterior worlds are calm and leafy, if dreary. Homes present their public spaces – their living rooms, their gardens – in neat, ordered beiges and browns. There are hints that something is wrong – the very first hint of creepiness in Creepy is the odd wind that always stirs the garden of the Nishino home, a quirk of the street layout that suggests a disturbance in the natural order. But overall, these exterior spaces are minimalist but comfortable, Ceremony and attention to detail colour even the most ordinary of days.

However, behind the exteriors, inside the suburban houses, lie the private interior spaces, and these are where horror lurks. The television screens of Ringu or the computer monitors of Kurosawa’s own Pulse (2001), the basement rooms hidden behind secret doors. Horror is not confined to these spaces, it extends its influence beyond their confines and infects the exteriors too. Nishino can leave his house and interact with the outside world, and can present a seemingly normal face to it, at least most of the time. It’s only when the curious detective ventures too far into the dark interior of the spaces the film constructs that the monsters show their true selves.

One of the most obvious J-horror comparisons to make with Creepy is with Takashi Miike’s classic 1999 chiller, Audition. Audition starts out like a romantic drama, with slightly weird undertones, and only gradually shades into real horror; Creepy shares the same gradual descent into the terrifying basement of the house it builds. The comparison is invited: visuals of young women holding up large syringes bring the famous poster for Audition straight to mind.

Creepiness a matter of instinct, and instinct is not a straightforward thing. Takakura’s detective’s instincts tell him how to catch a killer, but not what to do when the killer exerts an unnatural influence over the instincts of his victims. The tension at the heart of Creepy asks us to consider not only whether we should act on our instincts, but whether we should trust them in the first place.

Creepy is out today

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