The Complex (Kuroyuri Danchi): Rotterdam Review

"Ring"-master Hideo Nakata's disappointingly cliche-bound return to J-Horror inspires more giggles than shivers.

J-Pop sensation Atsuko Maeda stars in the latest chiller by J-Horror legend Hideo Nakata.

The "J-Horror" wave of terrifying Japanese chillers that started 15 years ago with Hideo Nakata's The Ring has ebbed into a tepid, clumpy foam on the evidence of his Rotterdam-premiering The Complex (Kuroyuri Danchi). Starring local pop star Atsuko Maeda as a meek high-schooler who moves into an apparently haunted apartment-block with her family, it's a compendium of cliches that outstays its welcome long before its protracted, ludicrous finale.

Nearly three years after the disastrously abortive London project Chatroom (2010), Nakata now returns home -- but as 2007's Death Note: L and 2009's Incite Mill proved, his stock there has been relatively low for some time. Indeed, a much bigger box-office factor will probably be the fan-fervor attracted by Maeda, whose departure from the multi-member cultural phenomenon AKB48 made national headlines last year.

The troupe's millions of followers could well turn out in droves for the May 18 release, though what's likely to be decidedly mixed word-of-mouth reviews for this somewhat outmoded style of East Asian horror makes demographic crossover prospects and thus longer-term chances tougher to call. Overseas, theatrical exposure will likely consist of late-night berths at horror-skewing festivals as a prelude to small-screen play.

While Nakata's Ring and Dark Water (2002) inspired Hollywood remakes from Gore Verbinski and Walter Salles, respectively, Junya Kato and Ryuta Miyake's stop-start, only very intermittently unsettling screenplay hardly cries out for a Stateside re-do. When aspiring nurse Asuka (Maeda) moves with her family into a nondescript, slightly uncared-for housing complex in an unspecified city, it isn't long before she's disturbed by nocturnal scrapings and an early-morning alarm clock jarringly audible through what seem to be paper-thin walls.

Asuka eventually plucks up the courage to investigate, finding the three-day-old corpse of her elderly neighbor, who has apparently expired while trying to claw his way through a wall. Asuka's tremulous "Are you okay?" to what's patently a clay-cold cadaver is the first example of the screenplay torpedoing its chills by eliciting unintended giggles, but it certainly isn't the last.

The removal of the body proves, of course, only the start of Asuka's woes, which seem to somehow revolve around an unacknowledged, unresolved event in her past. And then there's local kid Minoru, a cheerful little lad who seems to have neither friends nor family, but is awfully keen to pal around with the passive, self-effacing Asuka.

Indeed, even by the standards of the sub-genre, Maeda's Asuka makes for an infuriatingly demure protagonist, and hints of a romance with pin-up-handsome Sasahara (Hiroki Narimiya) -- who works for a company specializing in cleaning up the apartments of the recently deceased -- remain half-hearted at best.

With psychiatric help apparently not an option, Sasahara instead suggests turning to an exorcist for help. This results in two rituals, the first laughably quick and straightforward, the latter so crazily elaborate -- it even involves laying out a full fish-meal, for reasons never specified, as a prelude to the frenzied wailing of bloodcurdling prayers -- that the picture fatally tips over into camp.

By this stage The Complex has lived up to its title only too well, combining various psychological and supernatural explanations in what feels like a desperate attempt to ratchet up the sense of nightmarish disorientation. But the climax involves so many weirdly excessive lighting-effects in Asuka's spartan apartment, courtesy of DP Junichiro Hayashi, that that viewers might wonder if our mousy heroine is actually being tormented by the spirit of a demented cinematographer.

Venue: Rotterdam Film Festival (Spectrum), January 26, 2013.

Production company: Nikkatsu Corporation
Cast: Atsuko Maeda, Hiroki Narimiya, Masanobu Katsumura, Naomi Nishida, Kanau Tanaka
Director: Hideo Nakata
Screenwriters: Junya Kato, Ryuta Miyake
Producer: Yuji Ishida
Director of photography: Junichiro Hayashi
Music: Kenji Kawai
Production designer: Kyoko Yakuchi

Editor: Naoko Aono

Sales agent: Nikkatsu, Tokyo
No MPAA rating, 106 minutes