Tuesday, September 28, 2010



When a young woman is found dead in her apartment, her gruesome death appears to be a suicide, and the Tokyo Police Department are ready to close the case. But when a second death is reported, another suicide by a salaryman whose wife witnessed him as he brutally stabbed himself in the neck again and again while sleeping, the detectives become much more suspicious of the first death. When both of the victims’ cell phones show their last conversation was with a caller known only as "0", they fear the suicides may have been coerced.

The detectives split off into two groups, with one taking on a traditional investigation attempting to hunt down "0", while newcomer detective Kirishima (J-pop star Hitomi) is assigned to approach from a more experimental viewpoint, trying to decipher what happened in their dreams. Her inquest leads her to a recluse known as the Nightmare Detective, a man who is cursed with the ability to enter people’s dreams. With his reluctant help, the Nightmare Detective enters into the dreams of Detective Wakamiya, who has since made contact with "0" and now is under suicide watch. Soon after entering Wakamiya’s dream, the Nightmare Detective discovers that there is a powerful entity in the dreamworld, whose desire to make others kill themselves rivals that of the Nightmare Detective’s desire to kill himself!

If the name Shinya Tsukamoto does not immediately put a smile on your face, then pay very close attention. Shinya Tsukamoto is an auteur in the Japanese film industry whose style is most commonly linked with the body-horror of David Cronenberg and the surrealist horror of David Lynch. Tsukamoto’s early film, TETSUO: THE IRON MAN helped to pave the way for the cyberpunk subgenre, and his influence can clearly be seen in the works of Takashi Miike and Darren Aronofsky. When Tsukamoto is not behind the camera making his own movies he is acting in his contemporaries’ films, and is most recognizable as the sinister Jijii in ICHI THE KILLER.

With NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE, Shinya Tsukamoto once again takes on almost all key production roles including director, writer, cinematography, editor, art designer, and even the role of the mysterious "0". His singular hand in the creation of the entire film is paramount in giving the movie its unique vision. While at the very core of the film is a death-by-dream motif that is similar to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, Tsukamoto takes his ideas of what nightmares would look like if they were caught on celluloid (well in this case HD video) further than Wes Craven would ever dare.

Tsukamoto’s visions of what happens within people’s nightmares is truly horrific, and as with many of his previous films, he takes full advantage of the visual medium that is film and exploits it to the fullest, offering up imagery you’ve never witnessed before. His blending of reality and dream as the film progresses is subtly twisted through his editing, and at times pushes beyond arthouse horror into pure experimental terror. Tsukamoto’s bloodlust once again makes a welcome return as his victims’ necks are ravaged by box-cutters in the real world, while in the dreamworld victims are chased by a horrible monstrosity of cobbled together body parts and exposed intestines.

But with the visuals being so utterly fantastic, the story itself and characterization suffers somewhat under the demands of said visuals. Tsukamoto does make a brave choice by making his titular character, played by Ryuhei Matsuda, hate the fact that he is able to enter into dreams, and doesn’t even want to help Kirishima. And while he may look cool with his straight-out-of-manga haircut, he is a completely introverted person who just wants to die, which makes it difficult to root for him despite his protagonist status. J-pop star Hitomi makes her feature film debut as detective Kirishima, and while she does a surprisingly good job as an actress with the bizarre material, the character itself offers little to care for. Shinya Tsukamoto does bring on the goosebumps with his portrayal of "0" with his natural facial features, including his emotionless and dead eyes, chilling the screen whenever he pops up.

NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE is a difficult film to watch for its disturbing visuals and is at times difficult to follow due to the information heavy dialogue (the subtitles sometimes flash by at a brisk pace) and the interpretive way the story unfolds. Still, this is an incredible cerebral horror firlm and a breath of fresh air amidst the deluge of long-haired ghosts that have been plaguing Japan over the past decade. Shinya Tsukamoto, as he enters into his third decade of filmmaking, proves once again that he is still ready and willing to take chances with his movies, and has lost none of his dedication to making sure that cinema stays dangerous.


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