Nightmare Detective

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New York Asian Film Festival/Japan Cuts Festival of New Films

NEW YORK -- Such works as the sci-fi classic "Tetsuo: The Iron Man" and the outlandish costume drama "Gemini" have established Shinya Tsukamoto as an auteur of the strange -- a kind of intellectual version of Takashi Miike. This riff on the J-horror genre certainly is imaginative, though it lacks the visual experimentation of his previous films. "Nightmare Detective" occasionally is effective but suffers because it relies more on gore and bloodshed than suspense for shocks.

There's a nastiness at the core of "Nightmare" that many will find off-putting. It has a sadistic approach to its characters, and the violence is often misogynistic. The film has more in common with the discomfiting "Marebito" -- in which Tsukamoto starred -- than standard J-horrors. But the Weinstein Co., which will release here on its Dragon Dynasty imprint, should find a willing audience of horror buffs looking for a different approach to what's now become an exhausted J-genre.

The story, by Tsukamoto, revolves around Keiko (pop star Hitomi), a yuppie cop who is investigating a series of gory suicides. Keiko realizes that the deaths may not actually be suicides at all, as they happen while the victims are asleep. It transpires that something or someone is entering their dreams and causing the violence. Keiko enlists Kyoichi (Ryuhei Matsuda), a reclusive young man who has the power to enter people's nightmares, to help her.

The narrative often is befuddling. The links between the real world and the nightmares aren't made sufficiently clear, even within the bizarre world of the script. The film's psychology is basic, and doesn't tell viewers much about the characters' actions. A fast-moving story line tries to mask this confusion but only ends up making it worse.

But the tone is consistent. It's a relentlessly grim view of human nature where people have no defense against those with baser, crueler instincts. Its aesthetic is even gloomier than David Fincher's "Seven" -- a hell on earth with no respite for the civilized. Tsukamoto is adept at taking viewers into this dark world, though they might find it's a place they don't care to visit.

Makeup, rather than computers, supplies most of the effects, and Tsukamoto relishes depicting nasty slashes on the bodies of the victims. This might be ugly, but it's not particularly scary, as the editing doesn't build up much suspense.

Tsukamoto seems to be trying to make an anti-suicide statement, as most of his characters change their minds about the act when it's too late. Suicide is ritualized in Japan with traditions like hari-kari, and it also has become a social problem there: Young students commit suicide because of bullying or exam pressure. Yet Tsukamoto has chosen a bizarre way to make his point.

Tsukamoto directed, wrote, produced, shot, edited and did the production design. He also plays Zero. Apparently, all this activity didn't tire him out. A sequel is on the way.

NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE
Dimension Extreme
A Movie-Eye Entertainment presentation of a Kaijyu Theater production
Credits:
Director/screenwriter/director of photography/production designer: Shinya Tsukamato
Producers: Shinya Tsukamato, Shinichi Kawahara, Yumiko Takebe
Executive producer: Taku Uhiyama
Music: Chu Ishikawa
Editor: Shinya Tsukamoto
Cast:
Kyoichi: Ryuhei Matsuda
Keiko: Hitomi
Wakayama: Masanobu Ando
Running time -- 105 minutes
No MPAA rating
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