Sunday, October 08, 2006

PREMONITION

This is the second in the 'J-Horror Theater' series of movies - a projected six stories with different horror directors, linked only by the same production team (most importantly producer, Taka Ichise, trading on his success with the Ring and Ju-on/The Grudge franchises). Premonition was released in Japan (titled Yogen) at the same time as Infection (Kansen) which is also availableon DVD. A third film, Reincarnation (or Rinne), directed by Takashi Shimizu of The Grudge series, was later released in Japanese cinemas in 2005. Premonition begins with a glimpse of a newspaper article about the same real-life psychic who inspired Ring, and was referred to in the book and the movie.The strong premise is that a newspaper is delivered with headlines describing deaths that haven’t happened yet, and what happens when the reader tries to avert these fatalities. I can't describe much of the plot without spoiling it from the start. I can just say that the opening scene is incredibly tragic and that the eerie mood doesn't take long to get established.Based on a thirty year old manga story called Kyofu Shinbun (literally 'Newspaper of Terror'), the script expands and incorporates the original tale very cleverly.
I was expecting more from this film, seeing as it was directed by Norio Tsuruta, whose eerie Kakashi (Scarecrows) and Ring 0: Birthday had already impressed me.In the thorough extras on the DVD is a very honest interview with the director, who admits that his horror films have been more subtle in the past, but now, jealous of the success of Takashi Shimizu, he’s been tempted to ‘show more’ horror. Looks like he studied Ju-on: The Grudge 2 very closely, because there’s a similarly tour-de-force sequence of alternate realities towards the climax, where the viewer is disorientated by constantly changing timelines. He even cast the star of Ju-on: The Grudge 2, 'horror queen' Noriko Sakai, as the leading lady.Almost instantly, I was gripped by the film, which has a heavy air of supernatural suspense right from the start. This mood was sustained for much of the film, no mean feat, but the actual 'horror payoffs', that the director has previously avoided, didn’t work for me. Ghostly apparitions are shown in too strong a light and as too physical. They failed to shock or scare me, making the leading actor’s reactions appear even more over the top.As the central character, Hiroshi Mikami has to appear distraught, scared or shocked for much of the movie, and his performance wasn't reined back as far as it could have been. To many viewers I’d guess his acting would be seen as way ‘too much’ and more likely to amuse than frighten. This isn't a film to turn on your friends to Japanese horror.Similarly, there's another awkward moment that may also unintentionally get a laugh. In a scene at a funeral service which shows a mourner about to look into the casket. The mother of the deceased opens up the casket and allows her to look inside before warning her that the dearly departed has had its face ripped off!Full marks for mood (and cutest little girl ever), but points deducted for actual horror. Again, I really enjoyed the disorientating climax, almost a nod to the climax of Dead of Night (1945) where the protagonist stumbled through every previous scene in the film. The film's finale and resolution compensate for its deficiencies. But I had been expecting a more even entry from this promising series.The films were released on DVD without any sort of fanfare, considering the talent involved, or much clue that they're linked. But I'll admit that the vague and lacklustre front cover put me off watching this until now.


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