Dir/scr: Shinya Tsukamoto. Jap. 2006. 107mins.
By now a brand name whose body of work has its ownband of dedicated and faithful followers, Shinya Tsukamoto sticks to form with Nightmare Detective, a brutal, violent,and nerve-racking slasher feature that blurs allborders between fantasy and reality. Assailing the audience from the start withblazes of booming sound and racing off into the dark recesses of the humanmind, its bleakness is only mitigated by a half-hearted sense of optimism rightat the end.
On paper, it may sound a bitfarfetched, with its story of a female detective solving a mysterious series ofbloody suicides with the help of a man who enters other people's dreams. Butthis is the kind of experience that will be adored by the midnight crowd andtheir very strong nerves, although some may complain that he has done muchbloodier deeds in the past.
Suitable only for limited, specialised distribution, but certain to exploit every cornerof the market, it has already secured slots at the next spate of festivals - italso plays
In a city not unlike
Keiko (Hitomi),a smartly presented policewoman, takes it upon herself to solve the case. Soonenough she reaches the conclusion that someone is entering the victims' dreams andpersuading them to take their own lives.
She appeals to Kyoichi (Matsuda), a man known as a nightmare detective andwho can himself enter the dreams of others, to help; he, for his part, isreluctant, claiming that the process itself is painful and harrowing for himself and risks putting subjects into a catatonic coma forthe rest of their lives.
By the time Kyoichi allows himself to be dragged into the action, oneof Keiko's colleagues, Wakamiya (Masanobu Ando) hasalready dispatched himself into the next world. Keiko, realisingthe killer enters his victims' minds when they call him, takes the risk and dialsthe number, though she knows that she may well be the next suicide on the list.
Using his own script,Tsukamoto plays on the old adage that there is nothing more unpleasant to gaze uponthan other people's dreams, as well as the notion that every person is schizophrenicto a certain extent.
He also adopts the themethat, deep down, everyone has a powerful urge to exit their disappointingtemporary life for the eternity of death: in many cases all that is needed topush a person over the edge is to locate them in a moment of crisis and pouroil on an already smouldering fire.
Tsukamoto's male cast, whosetortured faces often carry make-up bruises that look startlingly real, aresupposed to express only extreme emotions, and acquit themselves nobly enoughof their task. Hitomi, a singing star of considerablerepute, looks and acts like a model for what feels like her first step in a newcareer.
The director himself takes asupporting part, as he usually does, this time as the corrupter of the mindlurking in the shadow for his next victim. He also recreates a universe that bynow is very much his, using enormous close-ups that strike the audience as somany punches in the belly, particularly when accompanied by hundreds ofdecibels on the soundtrack.
At other times he begins hisshots with details blown out of proportion and which only gradually take on a recognisable shape. Then there is how he moves his handheldcamera, indulging in wide and dizzyingly unexpected lunges, often enhanced by speededup motion and mixing mute colours and metallic huesbefore returning time and again to his beloved near black-and-white images. Admirerswill feel at home: the rest are not welcome.