Today I watched Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s Nightmare Detective (2006)
Shin’ya Tsukamoto is most well know for his seminal contributions to the Japanese Cyberpunk movement of the 90’s but as the new millennium came so did a new movement of low budget Japanese horror. This film is one of Tsukamoto’s forays into this more contemporary style which leads to an interesting situation as his style was very influential to a lot of this new horror breed and his attempts to remain contemporary yield interesting results. J-Horror as it is called has deep roots in traditional folklore, primarily ghost stories whose simplicity translated well to the low budget video market which was still exploding in Japan. The originators of the genre melded the theatrical traditions which had kept this folklore prescient with the aggressive camera style of the previous decade’s cyberpunk and yakuza flicks.
Nightmare Detective follows Keiko Kirishima, played by pop musician Hitomi, a seemingly emotionless and cold detective who has just transferred to homicide. Her first case finds her investigating series of supposed suicides that seem to be the work of a psychic dream predator. She enlists the help of another person who can enter dreams, the chronically suicidal Kagenuma played by Ryuhei Matsuda. Hitomi is at her best when she is acting stern and distant, as her character progresses along her arc she becomes less and less convincing as she has to reveal deeper emotions. Matsuda on the other hand is a great actor and does a good job of making me want to spend time with a brutally depressing character. He has one of those unique looks that makes him seem constantly out of phase with the rest of reality.
Tsukamoto brings his trademark visceral imagery and kinetic visual style and uses both to great effect here. While he builds great atmosphere the real horror here is brought on by the immediacy of Sam Raimi-esque POV handheld shots, smash cuts, and buckets of blood. Of course with a film that focuses so much on suicide the way Tsukamoto paints the setting as bleak as possible goes a long way to set up and support the violent outbursts. While many people may decry the so called shaky cam style and the use of jump scares, I think they are put to good use here and the exhilaration they instilled in me was a great counterbalance to the oppressive grimness of the rest of this film.
This is an interesting example of how to balance a horror movie, it is brutally depressing for the most part but a healthy dose of visceral and kinetic violence kept my blood pumping and kept me invested. Frequent Tsukamoto collaborator Chu Ishikawa delivers his trademark pounding musical accompaniment which I always find delightful to experience. While the acting and character development may drop the ball here and there, I think this is still a fairly strong film and demonstrates that Tsukamoto is a very adaptable film maker, able to consume new ideas and fuse them with his own indelible style. 4/5