Today I watched Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s Nightmare Detective 2 (2008)
Ryuhei Matsuda reprises his role as Kyoichi Kagenuma, a man cursed with telepathy and the ability to enter nightmares in this sequel that takes the foundation laid in the first and builds upon it very successfully. The police and those characters do not return and instead we follow Kagenuma as he pursues an independent investigation, a group of schoolgirls being visited in their nightmares by a classmate they had been bullying. Matsuda’s return marks a shift in his character who is not quite so morbid and in some early scenes the pettiness of his cynicism actually brings a little humour.
The big change from the first film to this one is Tsukamoto’s increased subtlety. While his camera work is still as hectic as ever in many spots he also slows the pace down allowing for more character development and more psychological build up. This inevitably led me to be more engaged and thus more scared when the sequences of terror unfold. There is also more complexity to the horror for while the first film’s evil forces were mostly invisible, here we get much more visually and it ends up making for some very tense sequences. The effect is like the old Hitchcock adage about building suspense which I will summarize. If you have two people eating at a cafe and then suddenly the cafe is blown up it is certainly shocking, but if the audience is shown the bomb being planted before the characters arrive and order their food, they feel the building suspense, knowing the bomb is going to go off but being forced to wait until it does for the tragic payoff.
Along with the diversified cinematography and visual language, the score by frequent Tsukamoto collaborator Chu Ishikawa is also much stronger here. It is an overwhelming mix of industrial rhythm with folkish reverberations that matches the evocative power of the imagery. I think the audio visual story telling here is rather incredible which is good because the dialogue is rather perfunctory, it gets out of the way and lets the style and actors tell the important details of the story instead.
As the film goes on it becomes progressively more surreal, adding to the overall variety that this film presents. It is a true evolution of the concepts first set forth in the original which is really what any good sequel should be. I greatly appreciated that the film took more time to establish the various moods at play throughout the film and that it went to some unexpected places towards the end. Strong visuals, performances, and soundtrack make this, for me, a personal bright spot in the J-Horror landscape. 5/5