Infection Dir: MasayukiOchiai. Jap. 2004. 98mins.
PremonitionDir: Norio Tsuruta. Jap. 2004. 95 mins.

In January 1998 twohorror films, both based on novels by Koji Suzuki, were released as a doublebill in Japan. The Ring (in Japanese: Ringu) and The Spiral (Rasen)became hits: the former especially launched the worldwide "J Horror" boom and was later madeinto a high-grossing Hollywood film.

Now The Ring'sproducer, Taka Ichise, is back with another two-hander, entry in his newsix-film J Horror Theater series. Thefilms, however, are different from each other in both source material andtreatment. Premonition is a mindbender in The Sixth Sense line, with a premise that is pure paranoidfantasy, while Infection is a house(or rather hospital) of horrors shocker, reminiscent of the Takashi Miike hit OneMissed Call. It is also more deeply rooted in reality, albeit Japanesemedical style.

Both have already soldwidely abroad and Ichise is negotiating for the inevitable remakes.

While The Ring offered a fresh take on genre conventions - its mostmemorable character was a vengeful female spirit who inhabited a video tape - Infectionand Premonition will look familiar to JHorror buffs. If you've seen one character drooling green slime, you'veseen them all.

Both, however, should giveeven core fans the shivers, though the more jaded may complain that J Horror is getting too far from itsJapanese roots and becoming too close to what is already coming out ofHollywood. At home in Japan, the double bill has so far taken a good $0.3m from13 screens (key nine cities only) in its opening week.

Scripted and directed byMasayuki Ochiai, whose credits include the JHorror shockers Parasite Eve (1996) and Hypnosis (1999), Infectionis set in a dank, gloomy hospital that looks more like a roach hotel than atemple of healing, with the patients hovering between life and death, doctorsand nurses, on the brink of collapse.

The turning point is apatient who dies horrifically because of mistaken injection. The newbie nurse(Mari Hoshino) responsible is distraught, while the hot-headed Dr. Uozomi(Masanobu Takahashi), who gave her the mistaken order, and Dr. Akiba (KoichiSato), who heads the operating team, propose a cover-up. The newbie'ssharp-tongued colleague (Yoko Maki) and the battle-hardened head nurse (KahoMinami) are less than sympathetic, however.

Before a staff civil war canerupt, an emergency patient begins to disintegrate in a way so revolting thateven the camera can't bear to look (which intensifies the horror). Thenspectral hospital chief, Dr. Akai (Shiro Sano), appears and suggests that theyinvestigate the virus that has caused this distressing mess. Meanwhile, thepatient has disappeared into the ventilation system.

Infectionis like an X Files episode, minus Scully and Mulder, that pushes theedge of credibility while trading on irrational fears of the sick - and theundead. Ochiai, however, stresses Grand Guiginol atmospherics more,rational-sounding explanations less. His hospital breathes with a menace, madnessand despair so pervasive that only a huge, obliterating explosion could bringescape, in this life, at least.

As the hospital head, ShiroSano is the film's scariest effect, with a stone face and lizard eyes thatexude evil with the barest nod or flicker. Christopher Walken would be a goodbet to play him in the remake.

Premonitionhas a harder-to-swallow premise: a mysterious newspaper that suddenly appears,with an article predicting a horrific death (or deaths) - and then dissolvesinto the air. Resemblances to the deliverers of fatal tidings in The Ring(videotape) and One Missed Call (mobile) are obvious.

The film begins as amelodrama with a strange, tragic twist. Hideki Satomi (Hiroshi Mikami), hiswife Ayaka (Noriko Sakai) and his young daughter Nana (Hana Inoue) are drivingblissfully through the countryside when Satomi stops at a phone booth to sendan email. There he discovers a scrap of newsprint with Nana's picture on it -and an article describing her death in a traffic accident.

Forward three years. Satomihas not recovered from his failure to prevent the accident, while his marriagehas ended. Meanwhile, Ayaka and a psychological researcher (Mayumi Ono)interview a psychic who has the ability to take Polaroids of the future withher mind, but becomes suspicious of Ayaka's motives. Then another"newspaper" arrives at Satomi's flat saying that one of his students(Maki Horikita) will die. Can he save her - and himself'

Tsuruta, who helmed Ring0 - Birthday in 2000, sensibly does not try to persuade us of the story'sliteral reality. Instead he takes us inside his hero's disturbed mind - orrather spirit. The third act, in which the time-space continuum dissolves, islike a drugged stagger though a hall of mirrors. Vertigo is a danger for audiences,even for those who can explain The Sixth Sense shot by shot to baffledfriends.

Hiroshi Murakami, who alsostarred in Parasite Eve, has a great staring intensity as Satomi, asthough he has been riding the edge of insanity too long and is about to dropthe reins. Over-ripe in the film's early scenes, this performance seems rightfor its latter ones, when Satomi's world shatters. As Ayaka, Noriko Sakaiover-does the motherly hysteria, but her core of cold rationality grounds thefilm - until it spins out of mere human control.

Prod cos: TBS, Entertainment Farm, Aozora Investment, Oz,Geneon Entertainment, Toho, Nikkatsu
Japan dist:
Int'l sales:
Lions Gate
Taka Ichise

Masayuki Ochia
Hatsuaki Masui
Prod des:
Atsuhiko Arakawa
Motofumi Fukazawa
Kuniaki Haijima
Main cast:
Mari Hoshino, KoichiSato, Masanobu Takahashi, Yoko Maki, Kaho Minami

Noboru Takagi
Naoki Kashiwano
Prod des:
Iwao Saito
Hiroshi Sunaga
Kenji Kawai
Main cast:
Hiroshi Mikami, NorikoSakai, Hana Inoue, Mayumi Ono, Maki Horikita