NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE (a.k.a. Akumu Tantei, 2006) is the handiwork of renowned Japanese director/actor Shinya Tsukamoto who is also responsible for acclaimed hits such as TETSUO 1 & 2 and A Snake of June. I like this director's style, this film may have the largest budget bestowed him, but this director stands by his art, never for a moment does he give in to the pressure of making a studio-approved/influenced film. Tsukamoto just has a bigger budget to give mainstream viewers another shot of the bizarre and macabre. Would you believe that the director of this film also plays the main antagonist? Well, he does, and rightfully so. (Tsukamoto also played the lead in "Marebito", which I have also reviewed here at Lunch.com)
A beautiful and competent detective named Keiko Kirishima (J-pop star Reiko Hitomi) is summoned to investigate supposedly two separate suicide cases. The supposed "suicides" have a common denominator; the victims dialed the same number on their cell phones just minutes before their demise. When one of the victim's wife makes a statement that she saw her husband cutting himself to pieces while he is asleep, it starts to feel more like a "serial" murder. Keiko and her partner, Wakamiya (Masanobu Ando) decides to enlist the aid of Kagenuma (Ryuhei Matsuda, Izo), a so-called psychic who can enter the dreams of another individual. The mysterious individual on the receiving end of the cell phone calls; "O" be the man behind the bloody incidents? Somehow, "O" holds the same mysterious power that Kagenuma wields.
At first glance, "Nightmare Detective" may feel like a rethread of Miike's "One Missed Call" mixed in with the horror elements of "Dreamscape" and "A Nightmare at Elm Street". However, the film sidesteps those boundaries and while its premise may hold similarities to other films, it plays like the comic book "Hellblazer" with a mixture of dark fantasy and mythology as the factors behind multi-dimensional connections. Water is used to symbolize one's immersion into "deep sleep" or a descent into the abyss and as a conduit to the dream world. "Constantine", anyone? (well, without the action and reliance to visual effects) I was rather a little disappointed that the usual J-horror gimmicks as the film does use a technological device as a link between the victims and the antagonist at first, but thankfully, the claustrophobic and atmospheric feel of the proceedings made me overlook the usual J-horror trappings.
Those who are familiar with Tsukamoto's work such as "Tetsuo" and "A Snake of June"; know that his work often relies on the creative visual manipulations of this director. There is a lot of bleakness in the proceedings, the "grainy" transfer of the film is done on purpose at times in order to allow the viewer to differentiate reality from the dream world. (Although, there are a few times it wasn't used to confuse the viewer). There are also a lot of themes and Christian motifs that involve birth and baptism, rebirth and redemption, damnation to hell and eternal suffering. While these complicated thematic style may be its strength, it may also frustrate those looking for the usual scary thrills. There are quite a lot of intense and disturbing images but somehow I did feel like the surface has only been scratched and further development of its plot still have to be finalized, it feels like a set-up for a bigger film. Well, I've read that "Nightmare Detective 2" is in production, so maybe, as with "Tetsuo 2: Body Hammer", the sequel will hold more answers and close this series more effectively.
Aside from the film's thematic affair that aroused my curiosity, the performances actually do save the film. I rather thought for a first-time performance, very sexy J-pop starlet REIKO HITOMI did a fairly good job. She plays her character with a bit of an edgy, unsettling feel. It was such a grand effort not to be taken by her sheer good looks. Ryuhei Matsuda is an actor that usually has the same style of acting, but he does give an unbalanced depth to his character. I was very impressed with Shinya Tsukamoto's performance. Boy, this director can indeed act with a very creepy charisma. As the main antagonist, Shinya steals the show; his movement and dynamic presence fits his character with an unnervingly, insane portrayal.
Overall, "Nightmare Detective" is a film with modest intentions and I really didn't find that many faults about it. Viewers looking for a fast-paced horror thriller may find their interest beginning to wane after the dream world begins to take center stage. The final encounter has that very surreal feeling that doesn't really reach a finality of closure that may prove to contain the potential to become multiple climaxes. Thankfully, the effort in adding dimensions to its back-story and character depth does succeed that I was rooting for the protagonists all the way. I'm very intrigued to see what this awesome actor/director has next up his sleeve. I'm sold to see "Nightmare Detective 2".
Recommended! For fans of Japanese fantasy/horror films. [3 ½ stars]
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