New York Asian Film Festival

NEW YORK -- This highly effective supernatural thriller by Japan's Kiyoshi Kurosawa harks back to the demonic nature of his seminal "Cure." Although "Retribution" is more psychological than most J-horrors, it still has the power to make grown men scream out loud -- as evidenced by this screening at the New York Asian Film Festival. With careful marketing, Lionsgate should be able to attract both Asian horror buffs and cineastes in North America.

Kurosawa, whose "Pulse" was remade by the Weinstein Co. last year, has long been treading the line between horror and art house. Innovative and insouciant by turns, he revels in bending the genre into unrecognizable shapes. "Retribution" is perhaps his most neatly plotted film and certainly his most conventional work. But it still takes some risks. Although it's missing the delicious irreverence of "Seance" -- in which the ghost was much nicer than the humans it was haunting -- and the existential diversions of the ghostly "Pulse" (aka "Kairo"), the director still finds space for some unexpected developments.

In a seeming reprise of "Cure," the story centers on a doom-laden detective trying to solve a series of motiveless murders. Yoshioka (Koji Yakusho) is investigating the case of a woman drowned in a pool of salt water on a construction site on the outskirts of Tokyo. Yoshioka can't get a grip on the case, and when a similar murder is committed, he becomes a suspect himself. But that becomes the least of his worries when the ghost of the first victim begins haunting him, claiming that he killed her. The terrified detective is confused, as he has never met her before: Is she a mixed-up ghost who's haunting the wrong person?

"Retribution" uses a lot of well-known J-horror conventions, but it's still very scary indeed. As is typical, the ghost moves her body in some very strange ways, and these never fail to send a shiver down the spine. Ghosts in J-horrors often don't do very much; they just stand there and terrify their victims to death. Kurosawa uses this idea very effectively here, and there are some chilling moments. The director also offers some unusual touches, including a scene in which the victim is able to see the ghost, but the audience and the other characters can't. This plays out like an insane mime.

"Retribution" is set on grim construction sites on the outskirts of Tokyo as the somber settings mirror the dreary psychology of Kurosawa's downbeat characters. The decision to shoot in washed-out tones reinforces this feeling. Longtime Kurosawa regular Yakusho, taking cues from his own performance back in "Cure," plays the weary detective with the right balance of hope, paranoia and out-and-out terror.

Lionsgate Films
Tokyo Broadcasting Systems, Avex Entertainment, OZ and Nikkatsu Corp. present an OZ production
Screenwriter-director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Producer: Taka Ichise
Executive producers: Kazuya Hamana, Yasushi Kotani, Ryuhei Chiba
Director of photography: Akiko Ashizawa
Production designer: Norifumi Ataka
Music: Kuniaki Haishima
Editor: Nobuyuki Takahashi
Yoshioka: Koji Yakusho
Reiko: Riona Hazuki
Miyaji: Tsuyoshi Ihara
Harue: Manami Konishi
Running time -- 103 minutes
No MPAA rating