Shinya Tsukamoto has both been successful as an actor and as a director. Tsukamoto had starred in horror hits such as “Marebito” and “Ichi the Killer” that had acquired a cult following, while his directorial duties such as “Vital”, “A Snake of June” and the “Tetsuo” had mesmerized viewers with its sheer artful style. Tsukamoto is a name that I usually follow when it comes to Japanese cinema, and now finally made available to U.S. audiences (via streaming), “Nightmare Detective 2” is his follow up to the successful horror-fantasy hit.
Perhaps I should’ve re-watched the original “Nightmare Detective” before I watched its sequel. While I think this film could stand alone, I think having a fresh take on the original would benefit the viewer. This sequel once again brings into focus the title character, Kyoichi Kagenuma (Ryuhei Matsuda) who is still haunted by his unwanted abilities which allows him to enter other people‘s dreams. This film goes into his past, as memories of his mother who had died while he was a child seems to linger in his subconscious, that just slowly drowns him in misery.
One day, a young girl named Yukie (Yui Miura) comes to visit after hearing rumors of Kyoichi’s abilities to ask for his help. She tells him about her nightmares which are increasing in intensity and that a murderous ghost in her dreams had already killed two of her schoolmates and she is afraid that she may be next. Desperate and afraid, Yukie finally convinces the reluctant Kyoichi to aid her. Kyoichi sees some similarities to what Yukie had told him, and so he believes that to understand his mother’s death, he must go deeper into Yukie’s psyche and meet her antagonist. It, however, demands something much more as Kyoichi must also go further into the dreamscape than ever before.
Intentionally made with a convoluted screenplay, “Nightmare Detective 2” may prove to be a little frustrating to follow. The film is also riddled with ambiguity and metaphors that there may be more to read into the film than to actually watch. In order to appreciate the manner with which the screenplay (which Tsukamoto co-wrote) is executed, one needs to be in the proper state of mind. I do admit that it took me two attempts to sit through this film. The style is different from the original and it has that gloomy feel that seem to mimic the ‘feeling of dreamscape’. Tsukamoto also makes some visual manipulations and some creepy images that may scare, but really there is more to read into them than to simply watch as the screenplay is pretty abstract. My advise is to try to avoid getting frustrated, and instead come to the film with your thinking hat, so that the film can be so much more rewarding.
Themes of loss, despair, fear and the fear of being misunderstood or understood were all in the film’s narrative. While the original had more of a visceral feel to it, this film is a slow burn into darkness. It is a fantasy-horror thriller than something made to merely induce a scare. The characters in the film move around the plot and while their development was rather light, the plot itself gives them a enough depth to make them compelling. Matsuda is perfect in the title role; he does not say much and this makes him connect with the emotional turmoil that is set around his character. Miura is pretty alright with her portrayal, but I do have to give Miwako Ichikawa who plays Kyoichi’s mother. Despite her limited screen time, he managed to do a lot to develop the film’s premise.
The film uses some mild use of editing tricks with no CGI, and make up effects were more utilized to create its more creepy imagery. The way some of the scenes were shot gave them the ‘feel’ of being stuck in time, mild slow motion was used to express the emotions rather than for style. Tsukamoto can get carried away with his visuals, but here, he keeps things simple and yet they fit the film’s premise. As with its themes and narrative, the visuals themselves ‘speak’ to the viewer, and so one needs to read into everything that is set in the film.
“Nightmare Detective 2” will no doubt prove to be one of those films that require more than one viewing. It took me a little longer to get into it, and admittedly I even took a ‘power nap’ to wake me up. It is the kind of film that would not be for everyone, but those who manage to sit through may feel a sense of bewilderment and even confusion. But then again, isn’t that what dreams really are? Tsukamoto takes one into the dreamscape…his own dreamscape that it earns a Timid Recommendation. Those who appreciated the first film would easily get into what this sequel had done, while those who are not used to Tsukamoto’s own unique style had better just stay away. [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]