Japanese Title：さけび 叫
Release Date: 24th February 2007 (Japan)
Running Time: 103 mins.
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Starring: Koji Yakusho, Manami Konishi, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Riona Hazuki, Joe Odagiri, Ryo Kase, Hiroyuki Hirayama, Kaoru Okunuki, Ikuji Nakamura, Kenkichi Watanabe
With Kurosawa moving from the horror genre into the realm of drama Retribution is one of his last horror films. It bears all of the trademark imagery that Kurosawa is known for as well as his trusted male lead Koji Yakusho (Seance, Cure) and it is wrapped up in one of his intriguing supernatural mysteries.
Tokyo Police Detective Yoshioka (Yakusho) finds himself on the case of a woman drowned in a puddle. The strange thing is that her lungs are full of salt water and a button from his coat is near the crime scene. This crime is followed by a case concerning a doctor named Sakuma (Nakamura) drowning his son Yosuke. Curiously the boy’s lungs are also filled with salt water and there is evidence pointing to Yoshioka’s involvement. The police begin hunting a serial killer with a particular M.O. with Yoshioka’s associates and his partner Detective Miyaji (Ihara) beginning to suspect the killer might be him but these crimes are being committed by people acting out of character. Yoshioka is confused, a situation made worse by the fact that he is haunted by a ghost in a red dress (Hazuki). As a result he is driven to explore his memories, Tokyo Bay and the city to prove his innocence and free himself of the ghost.
The film takes place in the familiar landscape of a barren Tokyo littered with post-industrial industrial ruins, decaying buildings full of gloomy corridors peopled by haunted characters who harbour dark thoughts. Like Pulse, there is the sense that this is a dying world on the precipice of a supernatural apocalypse.
The lack of life is reflected in the technical aspects of the film. It is visually subdued. The colour scheme consists of a lot of greys, browns, and blacks. The camera pans around or remains stationary and quietly observes. There are a lot of mid-shots and long-shots. Even when there is action taking place Kurosawa defies the trend for quick editing and overly kinetic camera movement which leads to a film where the viewer’s eyes are purposefully drawn around the set and the actors who are in it. This allows Kurosawa to reveal the neat little tricks in his armoury of lighting and set design as well as letting the actors get on with acting. This means that when the occasional close-up is used it effectively relays the moments when characters undergo some mental shift and we notice it. When the camera remains stationary and lights are used to create wells of shadows that ghosts hide in we notice it. There is also this curious use of shimmering light, as if it is reflected by water, which links into the wider themes of the film – namely the flow of time and memory and the fluid nature of those and the city as well as identity.
The film is very quiet. It opens with the drowning of a woman but it is shot from a distance and sound is muted. The aural landscape is haunting with ambient, subdued, liquid-like electronic music that is beautiful, as t flows in during establishing shots and threatens to swamp characters at key moments. This is a quiet film that allows the audience to be shocked by sudden screams and bursts of sound and also made aware melancholy ambience and the sound of water (again).
The ghost at the centre is typical Kurosawa – lacking in humanity, drained of all emotion except resentment felt towards the living. The use of red is striking as it helps to highlight it in the grey and dusty atmosphere. The yurei as played by Harue is at once erotic and baleful, chilling in her fury and siren-like in her beauty and mystery. We are pulled into her orbit much like Yoshioka as we want to find out who she was. Like the yurei in Loft, this one has the knack of popping up all over the place and when combined with Kurosawa’s skill with lighting it can come as a shock. As it invades Yoshioka’s psychological and physical space and merges with his memories it twists the film’s narrative and turns an intriguing mystery into another one of Kurosawa’s supernatural apocalypse scenarios.
The performances are uniformly brilliant. Yakusho’s fine performance convinced me that he was a gifted detective who is steadily undergoing a crisis rooted in his psyche. You are never quite sure whether he is sane or insane and if he is the murderer. Hazuki as the ghost is spectacular as mentioned. She is gorgeous and mysterious and able to convey the emotional desolation that Kurosawa’s ghosts are known for. I want to be haunted by her. Ihara (Thirteen Assassins) as detective Miyaji is a solid co-star for Yakusho to bounce off. Joe Odagiri (Bright Future, Adrift in Tokyo) as the psychiatrist only get two scenes but he is fantastic as he reveals that the yurei might be worse than first expected.
It is safe to say that I loved this film. The Japanese title, Sakebi, means scream. As a final scream from Kurosawa’s realm of horror it is great! Kurosawa transcends J-horror by providing a script, characters and ideas which are so well thought out and performed that it sucks me in. The technical aspects of the film and the acting created an atmospheric experience which I was sucked into and enjoyed tremendously. It is both a great mystery and horror film and I loved the ambiguous ending.