クリーピー 偽りの隣人 「Kuri-pi- Itsuwari no Rinjin」
Running Time: 130 mins.
Release Date: June 13th, 2016
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Chihiro Ikeda (Screenplay), Yutaka Maekawa (Original Novel)
Starring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Teruyuki Kagawa, Yuko Takeuchi, Masahiro Higashide, Haruna Kawaguchi, Ryoko Fujino, Toru Baba, Misaki Saisho,
I have been sitting on this film review for nearly two years. Due to the tragic death of Yuko Takeuchi, I have released it in her honour. This film is available to view for free on Amazon Prime in Japan and the UK, so please take the time to watch it and see Yuko Takeuchi in action.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa has crafted some chilling antagonists in his horror films, all based on original scripts. The amoral magnetism of the mesmerist Mamiya from Cure and the ghosts of Pulse are some of the most memorable, but they were just the symptom and not the cause of the main character’s true conflicts. Alienation caused by society was at fault for channelling these monsters into everyday settings. This sense of disconnection is something Kurosawa masterfully utilised in the family drama Tokyo Sonata where a patriarch and his clan lose their cohesion after he loses his job and the family each reformulate their sense of place in the world. With family time made unbearable by the barely suppressed anger and disappointment each character feels, it strikes a very realistic chord whilst being scary like much of Kurosawa’s horror output. Creepy is based on a book by Yutaka Maekawa and while Kurosawa may not have scripted the antagonist, he is one of his most odious bad guys yet.
“He gave me the creeps.”
Ex-detective Koichi Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) quits the Tokyo police force after a psychopath almost kills him. He ups roots and moves with his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) to the suburbs and takes up work as a university lecturer in criminal psychology. Their new life seems stable enough. He thinks his job is fun, she is busy as a housewife and their new house seems pleasant but things turn sour when they introduce themselves to their next door neighbours. One set, the Tanakas’, aren’t interested in getting to know them and then there is Mr. Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa) who seems to hide his wife and daughter Mio (Ryoko Fujino) from the outside world.
Both Koichi and Yasuko are put off by his creepy behaviour, an unpredictable and elemental force that can flip between sudden turns of anger and cloying niceness as he adheres to and breaks social protocols. However, relations continue haltingly and often behind Koichi’s back because he is at university while Yasuko sees Nishino around the neighbourhood and social niceties must be upheld. Meanwhile, as Yasuko holds down the fort, Koichi is delving into cold cases, one involving a missing family where only one person survived, a girl named Saki Honda (Haruna Kawaguchi). He sees it as a challenge for him to solve the case as his old detective instincts kick in. What he least expects to happen is that his work will affect his home life because when Nishino’s daughter confronts Koichi and tells him that her father is a stranger, he sees a link and realises Yasuko is in danger. This is when things get really creepy…
“That Nishino, he’s a monster.”
Kiyoshi Kurosawa is the master of creepy and in terms of story this echoes one of his masterpieces, Cure in that it is a police procedural that leads us down a dark and foreboding narrative that is grounded in realism but has occasional forays into horror territory.
The script is solid in setting up and bringing the characters together but it excels in its characterisation and examination of how people adopt false masks, especially Nishino, as it makes everyone’s behaviour disturbingly opaque.
The Japanese title is Creepy – False Neighbour. For a society like Japan where a lot of the population live closely together and there is a demand to observe social mores and neighbourly activities to get along together the film explores what happens when we don’t know that person.
Nishino is the unknown neighbour and is creepy and he establishes this mood by being deliberately erratic in order to manipulate others. Sometimes nice, sometimes nasty, he is hard to judge and that is how he operates. Nishino takes advantage of how society has become increasingly atomised, our awareness and understanding of others fragmenting as we lead our individual lives without regard for others and don’t check in on neighbours and loved-ones and how we pretend to be alright for the sake of others.
Nishino shows up, dazzles people with his unpredictability which leaves them open to his charm and then essentially inveigles his way into people’s lives, isolates them and then takes control of them through nefarious means. This is a film that demands a lot from Teruyuki Kagawa as a performer and he delivers an oily, manipulative and insidious villain. He displays the theatricality of his character so viewers can see when he is trying to shift gears and be normal. When he works his charm he is persuasive and that is when he slips into people’s lives for he has a sharp mind for preying on people who he senses are alienated.
The hows and whys are part of the suspense of the story as is his history but there is a lot of build up throughout the film as Takakura and an ex-colleague on the police force, Nogami (Masahiro Higashide), research different cases and find out more about Nishino’s M.O. and the more we learn the more the suspense turns into intense foreboding which is where Kurosawa really cranks up his style in key scenes to subvert normality.
Kurosawa shows his mastery of tone with absolutely genius location selection and light design, camera movement and pitch-perfect acting to give us the chills that come from being immersed in superbly created atmosphere. University life and suburban living is the terrain the film plies. The sorts of winding streets you find in Chiba and Saitama. Koichi Takakura goes through familiar routines with a commute outside of the city centre leading to long walks through leafy streets that rise and fall on hillsides. It is unremarkable and rather peaceful but there are the typical visual motifs familiar from past Kurosawa films that make things a little off-kilter like the reflection of rippling water on walls as seen in Retribution, billowing curtains a la Penance and Dutch angles and the camera pulling back and holding a long shot on something menacing like plastic sheeting fluttering around an entryway. These disruptive images match the way that Koichi delves deep into the minds of his criminal case subjects and disrupts the placid surface people often present as a false mask to get through social situations.
The way the atmosphere invokes these deep dives is perfectly felt in the sequence where Koichi explores Saki Honda’s memories of her family’s disappearance at the university. It takes place in a glass-fronted university building with the sun lighting the scene. Saki’s face is the focus and as she goes deeper into her memories she moves around the tight set with the camera trailing her and the male actors in the immediate vicinity carefully re-positioning themselves in her orbit while the extras come and go in the background. We are in reality but slowly being dragged into her mind thanks to the way the lighting changes and Saki’s voice dominates the soundtrack.
The lights dim to an intimate darkness at first but get darker, like clouds have covered the sun outside or maybe Saki has gone underground. Then the soundscape gives the impression we are going underground or into some cavernous space. Ambient noise fades away to silence so we only hear Saki. Occasionally, we hear booming echoes as if heavy boxes are being shifted around a warehouse as Saki sorts through her memories. As Saki recounts her memories her words and tone ratchet up the tension, how some strange man managed to sneak into her family and devour everybody one by one over time. This continues until she surfaces from the dark memories and the lights come back and there’s a rush of chatter from outside. I felt my stomach in knots during this sequence which is masterfully shot.
The second sequence to highlight is actually two parts but they occur in the same place and one builds upon the other. It is when two characters enter Nishino’s house. It is our first true view of the inside. They stand in the genkan and view their surroundings, the pea-green paint of the décor really off-putting and the clutter making it claustrophobic. There is also the sound of something industrial which can be heard in the distance, like a metal lathe moving slowly as it cuts through something. Nishino grins as he leads people inside the hallway but they stop in that genkan and stand there rooted to the spot. The camera in these scenes is often off-kilter. Tilted slightly at a strange angle. It captures the actors in a close-up as fear passes over their face. They sense something wrong. Perhaps its the metal doors or the dingy corridor that leads to the basement. We all know something bad happens in basements and in Nishino’s house the suspense is off the charts as we watch the characters hesitate to look inside despite his cloying and creeping friendliness.
“Most dangerous criminals seem super nice to their neighbours so I guess we’re safe.”
That line shows how off characters are about his erratic behaviour.
The full reveal of his machinations comes after such a torturous and elaborate set-up and, of course, it takes place in the basement, a mentally and physically oppressive space that matches the horror of, say, the studio in the Yasuzo Masamura classic Blind Beast. It lives up to the long shadow his character has cast and it is, of course, all hidden behind the normal-looking facade of the house. The method of killing is absolutely fiendish and sort of believable and plays into the notion that we don’t know what lies in the hearts of others. You can imagine it happening in your neighbourhood. Kagawa is complex but always creepy and uses his piranha-like grin to be off-putting. His performance is reminiscent of the one he gave in Kurosawa’s earlier thriller The Serpent’s Path (1998).
Indeed, the lead actors have worked with Kurosawa before, Hidetoshi Nishijima in License to Live and Teruyuki Kagawa as the lead in Tokyo Sonata. Both Nishijima and Kagawa have collaborated on great dramas together with Mozu and Double Face and have a good chemistry here with Nishijima playing something of a square-jawed hero to the more insidious and cunning character that Kagawa portrays. Strong support is provided by Masahiro Higashide (The Kirishima Thing) and Haruna Kawaguchi (POV: A Cursed Film) whose characters help flesh out the story immensely. Yuko Takeuchi, who starred with Hidetoshi Nishijima in Strawberry Night (2013), proves to be a dynamic link for the two men. She sensitively essays a woman who has put her dreams on hold and plays a part for her husband whilst decaying inside. Her souring with frustration is gradual but gripping. It is a complicated performance of surfaces that eventually collapse and, more importantly, it works in service of the idea that people can live together but have separate lives which a character like Nishino can exploit. This sets up an ending with one of Kurosawa’s apocalyptic skyscapes as seen in Charisma as all these alienated people, sucked into a madman’s games, face destruction if they don’t try to understand each other. Getting to this point is an excruciating and thrilling experience.
“You’re on the verge of a breakthrough.”
Apologies for the length of the review but I enjoyed the film a lot. 2016 saw Kurosawa re-embrace his past as an auteur in the horror film genre. Two films were released, Daguerreotype and Creepy, and both were of a high standard of narrative and tonal cinema that after a career bump like Real (2015) it was good to see him back on track diving under the skin of people in order to make atmospheric tales of obsession and peeling back the veneer of society in order to show what sort of monsters lurk in everyday places.
If you made it all the way to the end and read everything, thank you very much.
Yuko Takeuchi, RIP.