Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Screenplay: Chihiro Ikeda, Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Based on a Novel by: Yutaka Maekawa
Starring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Yûko Takeuchi, Teruyuki Kagawa, Ryôko Fujino, Masahiro Higashide
Running Time: 130 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
In the late 90's and early 2000's, Japanese cinema was in vogue among cineasts. J-horror was making big waves with Ring and Ju-On leading the pack and Takashi Miike was blowing our minds with his array of wild and disturbing films. Somewhere along the way, not helped by the devastating earthquake in 2011, the crowd of Japanese titles thinned out though and audiences started looking towards Korea and elsewhere for their foreign language fixes. Some directors have remained relevant though and one of these is Kiyoshi Kurosawa. He gained fame during the Japanese film boom directing horror films like The Cure and Pulse and crime thrillers such as Serpent's Path and Eyes of the Spider. Then, as many of his contemporaries struggled to stay relevant in the West, he found acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, entering into the various competitions numerous times and winning the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize in 2008 for Tokyo Sonata and the Un Certain Regard - Directing Prize for Journey to the Shore. The two titles mentioned showed he was as adept at writing and directing drama as he was thrillers. Last year however saw him return to his roots to co-write and direct Creepy, an unnerving thriller about family dynamics and not trusting your neighbours. Eureka have added it to their Masters of Cinema collection, so I thought I'd check it out.
The film opens with an exciting face off between police detective Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and a psychopath who escapes from his interrogation. The stand-off ends messily with Takakura getting stabbed, a bystander possibly being killed and the suspect having to be taken down in a hail of bullets. We then fast forward a year and find that Takakura has moved out of the city with his wife to lead a peaceful life teaching criminal psychology rather than practising it. However, when a colleague at the university and a former partner of his on the force approach him about a missing persons case that went cold 6 years ago, Takakura is drawn into a dangerous investigation once again. Meanwhile, his wife Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi) is struggling to settle into the new area as her neighbours aren't very approachable, particularly Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa), a creepy character who lives with his daughter Mio (Ryôko Fujino) and wife, who is always mysteriously absent. As we follow both storylines, you get the sneaking suspicion they're going to converge somewhere along the way.
Creepy really plays on its title. You could even call it an exercise in creepiness as Kurosawa pulls all the tricks out of his bag to unsettle the audience. On top of the creepy neighbour, the characters (particularly the detectives) also often have 'bad feelings' about things and nobody trusts anybody. In the first half, bits of information or hints of what is to come are revealed in a slow, but steady drip. This makes for an incredibly engrossing watch.
Tension and unease are built through suggestion in the dialogue and performances as well as simple techniques like holding on shots a little too long or using subtle sound design cues like a stronger wind coming through the trees. Kurosawa has a wonderful handle on these subtle devices – they may not be new, but he knows how to use them very effectively.
At the half way point the film performs a sharp u-turn though. The slow burn and minimal trickle of information stops and we are thrown headlong into the horror initially lurking under the surface. At first I was quite unhappy about this shift, feeling the film was making the same mistakes I thought Pulse made (I wasn't a fan of that film's second half shift into the bizarre), but the second half here soon revealed its strengths as it becomes more of a straight up horror film and works admirably as such. It gets very tense at times, with one jump scare proving particularly effective, and becomes quite grim and unpleasant too. I still preferred the first half though and the film does verge on getting a bit silly towards the end, so this major shift did prevent me from giving the film the highest of praise.
It's a classily made affair though all around, elegantly shot without ever being flashy. The minimalistic sound design and fairly understated use of music is very effective too. The performances are also strong, with the central couple nicely balancing the range of emotions their characters have to deal with. Kagawa as the creepy neighbour is suitably unhinged too – bonkers without straying fully into over the top.
So, an impressive piece of work. A wonderful slow burn first half makes way for a pretty crazy, but genuinely disturbing final run. The shift might not work perfectly, but I can still heartily recommend the film to thriller and horror fans. It certainly lives up to its title.
Creepy is out on 23rd January on Dual Format DVD & Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema series. The picture and audio quality is excellent.
On top Eureka's usual thought-provoking and in-depth leaflets, you get a new interview with director Kiyoshi Kurosawa as a special feature. Running at 39 minutes it's pretty thorough, if a bit dry.