Written and Directed by: Shinya Tsukamoto
Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Hitomi, Masanobu Ando
It seems like Japanese horror has become something of a cliche as of late, with so many of the films repeating the same themes and imagery over and over again, only to have the American remakes regurgitate them even further. But outside of The Ring and The Grudge and the commercially successful franchises, there is still a thriving underground of fringe Japanese filmmakers who are trying to produce movies that are a little more adventurous. I was hoping that Nightmare Detective would bring something new and interesting to the table, and I was certainly not disappointed on that account, even if the end result is a bit convoluted and cryptic.
Written and directed by Shinya Tsukamoto, who is probably best known for the 1989 cult classic Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Nightmare Detective starts by introducing us to a mysterious character who is able to enter people’s dreams and interact with them while they are sleeping. He seems to be a bit of a tortured soul, however, a social outcast who is overly attuned to people’s thoughts and feelings. At the same time, there is a series of disturbing suicides happening around town, where the victim’s cell phones reveal a phone call to a someone named “0” right before their death. (Don’t worry… the connection to technology doesn’t go any further than that in this particular flick.)
Eventually one of the detectives on the case decides to bring in the so-called “Nightmare Detective”, and try and reproduce the circumstances of one of the deaths. This leads to a surreal and disturbing journey into a nightmare world where “0” tries to convince his victims to do themselves in.
Obviously the concept sounds a bit similar to The Cell, but the imagery in this movie is a heck of a lot bloodier and more unsettling than anything witnessed in that movie. (Trust me, Vincent D’Onofrio has got nothing on this “0” guy.) Nightmare Detective actually starts off fairly straightforward with a police investigation into the suicides; it felt a bit like I was watching an X-Files episode and I was totally hooked into the mystery. After a while though, it dives back off the deep end into a demented mindscape, at which point the David Lynch comparisons come into play. There is some alternately beautiful and horrifying cinematography (with lots of varying colour filters), and a bit of Sam Raimi-esque camera craziness to boot. Tsukamoto’s cinematic genius is on full display during these segments, and it’s easy to see why he has developed such a fanatical following within certain circles.
The thing is, movies that take place primarily in a surreal dream world can always go either way for me. I like to have some semblance of a story to help me comprehend what I’m seeing, and at some point I felt like Nightmare Detective got off track and just sort of gave in to the madness. I know that experimental film enthusiasts will really dig this aspect of the movie, but while the blurring of dream and reality is sort of the point of it all, it will definitely leave most mainstream viewers scratching their head. Unlike The Cell or A Nightmare on Elm Street, by the end of the movie, there is no coherent real-world plot left to frame the nightmares.
Overall though, this was a pretty unique film and a nice alternative to a lot of the middle of the road J-Horror stuff. It doesn’t give in to easy scares or obvious gimmicks, instead offering a slow build-up of weirdness that creeps into your consciousness over time. If that sounds like your cup of tea, or if David Lynch and Takashi Miike are big on your list of favourite filmmakers, then you’ll want to check out Nightmare Detective. But whatever you do, don’t watch it right before bed! — Sean
Recommended If You Like: The Cell, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Twin Peaks, One Missed Call