Nightmare Detective (2006) / Thriller-Horror
aka Akumu tantei
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably a R for some gore, violence, and scary images
Running time: 106 min.
Cast: hitomi, Ryuhei Matsuda, Shinya Tsukamoto, Ren Osugi, Yoshio Harada, Masanobu Ando
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Screenplay: Shinya Tsukamoto
Review published July 9, 2007
Nightmare Detective is a visually impressive but murky horror excursion that builds itself up as a police thriller with elements of dark fantasy interspersed. The entering of dreams by a protagonist in order to stop further crimes by a ruthless antagonist has been explored before, most notably in the 1980s American thriller, Dreamscape, though the similarities between the two films probably are probably coincidental. Actually, it plays a lot more like the recent Hollywood horror flick, Constantine, except with less emphasis on action and special effects, and more on the mythology and fantasy behind the inter-dimensional connections. Its feet are still firmly planted in the J-horror trappings that see fantasy realms merging with reality through technological devices (typically a cell phone, as it is here), although still done with more intelligence and reserve than the schlock Hollywood thrillers have been able to muster in recent years.
Japanese pop singer and first-time starring actress hitomi (Life is Journey) plays Keiko Kirishima, a new beat detective transferred into the Tokyo homicide department, whose first assignment is the apparent suicide of a young woman whose last act was a call placed on her cell phone to a person mysteriously named "0" (Tsukamoto casts himself as the villain). Not long after, the same events happen again to another person, and the cops soon begin to think that this "0" person may be someone with great control over the minds of those he talks to, ostensibly able to enter their dreams and coerce them into killing themselves. As this is a new kind of homicide, the police haveto take a new route of investigation, using someone gifted in supernatural occurrences with experience in delving into the thoughts and dreams. That person is suicidal anti-hero Kyoichi Kagenuma (Matsuda, Izo), who ends up working in unison with Keiko and her unit in making contact with 0 and trying to stop him from killing anymore people. Only trouble is, will he, or anyone else, survive long enough to make a difference?
As with other Tsukamoto ventures (Tetsuo: The Iron Man, A Snake of June), the visuals are a key ingredient to one's enjoyment of his film, and with a bleak atmosphere, plenty of sub-Christian motifs involving baptism, redemption and living in Hell, it's a heavy thematic affair that may lose some viewers just looking for a scary good time. Spit and polish it's got, though there isn't much depth in the characterizations or the main story. It's more of an interesting take on typical genre staples, with developments that feel like the surface has only been scratched as to the possibilities that develop. The film doesn't quite end in with finality of full closure, and consequently feels more like a set up for future releases in the series (indeed, a follow-up is scheduled for a 2008 release, rumored to be the second in a trilogy).
Nightmare Detective is an effective piece with modest intentions, although some viewers may find interest waning once the dream world begins to take center stage, which grows ever more frequent as the climax draws near. Like most dreams, what happens in the final conflict is surreal and difficult to grasp from a story perspective, but if you can weather the storm of the convoluted execution, you'll probably come away with a positive enough experience to feel satisfied. Although those into shock and gore may feel tepid, the thoughtfulness involved in the back story and its characters pays dividends, as we do eventually begin to care whether these two suicidal people can find a way out of their predicament with their lives intact, as well as their sanity. Although most of the gore is kept off screen, it is a very bloody affair, and fairly dark in imagery, so keep away expectations of a rollicking fun fright-fest.
©2007 Vince Leo