NYAFF '16: Creepy (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

by Jason Suzuki

After a criminal psych-evaluation/hostage situation that went wrong, detective Takakura (CUT's Hidetoshi Nishijima) now lives a quiet life in the suburbs with his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi). He works as a criminal psychology professor at a university but his boredom leads him back into investigating an unsolved case for fun. Meanwhile Yasuko's stay-at-home boredom has her wanting to get to know her new neighbors on the left and right of the house. After being told flat out by one homeowner to keep to herself she starts to fixate on the alternating charm/odd behavior of other neighbor Nishino (recent Kurosawa regular Teruyuki Kagawa). Both storylines will converge when Takakura's suspicions mount about Nishino. This is Kiyoshi Kurosawa's The Burbs and apart from the title it is fantastic, combining his recent experiments with the masterfully controlled long takes of Cure, what has remained, despite his consistently high quality output, his greatest use of genre for the exploration of social concerns.

Based upon the novel by Yutaka Maekawa, this follows in the footsteps of other Kurosawa works based on popular novels Real and the closer in tone Penance. Judging from a plot synopsis of the book, Kurosawa has stripped it down and taken out most of the coincidental, interconnected elements in favor of a focus on tone and the small cast of characters. Kagawa gets to shine as the neighbor, both a testament to his abilities and the meaty deviousness of the character. But the real focus here is on husband and wife Takakura and Yasuko. Even though it comes off as yet another example of a poorly borrowed English word, it directs us to the central concern of the film: how does intuition interact with social courtesies, especially when the suspicion becomes increasingly believable. Why attempt to interact with your neighbors and build a community when you might be right about their ulterior motives? Or is this suspicion without grounds and connections will be left unsought. Kurosawa weaves these questions expertly and maintains the fun of the thriller genre at his own pacing.

There is a sense of humor to how Takakura reinserts himself back into the world of killers and investigations. Sitting at his university desk with nothing to do he asks a colleague what professors do when not in class. "Work on research projects" is the answer. Instead of starting his own Takakura gets up and leans over his colleague's shoulder, asking what he is doing on his computer. This is how he is introduced to the unsolved case of a little girl's missing family. What begins as a hobby to get the adrenaline going again from a safe distance catches the attention of an old detective friend Nogami (Masahiro Higashide) that gets Takakura access to the girl whose family had disappeared. 

In what should be considered the film's minimalist centerpiece, Takakura conducts an evaluation of the girl, now six years older from the disappearance of her family and approaching the twilight of her teens. All done in a single, roaming take from a distance, this is Kurosawa one upping the interrogation/hypnosis sections of Cure. He ups the complicated staging and blocking of actors and introduces the element of unrealistic lighting to produce probably the only time in the film where the title could refer to fright rather than intuition. If Kagawa can't stop shining as weird neighbor Nishino then this is when the rest of the film gets to steal the attention.

Creepy feels the most like Kurosawa's J-horror titles that made him famous but it retains the cold distance and abstraction of his recent work. It is both a return to previous form but more of the same for the director. This combination makes it his best film since Tokyo Sonata and his most surface level entertaining since Seventh Code or even further back with the goofy Doppelganger. Fans should enjoy this one immensely.

Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.

All images (c) 2016 "CREEPY" FILM PARTNERS