Tag: hiroyuki sanada


Ringu (1998)
★★★ / ★★★★

Hideo Nakata’s “Ringu,” based on the novel by Kôji Suzuki, is a horror film more interested in telling a strong story and establishing a consistent feeling of doom than delivering standard scares in which viewers are compelled to jump out of their seats. What results is a work that one cannot help but peer into, like gazing inside a crystal ball where a number of figures can be discerned but making sense of their meaning requires patience and an appreciation of how, for instance, a person’s trauma can have a ripple effect throughout one’s inner circle and eventually one’s community.

The plot revolves around a “weird video” in which, according to high school gossip, those who watch it have seven days left to live. Journalist Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) decides to investigate if the urban legend is true considering that her own niece was supposed to have seen the video in question along with three friends—all of them died on the same day, exactly a week later since their trip up in the mountains. The expository sequences are fascinating because every scene provides curious information—necessary foundation to be able to ask the right questions which may then help to solve the mystery at hand. In a way, it is a classic detective story in that our protagonist must meet and talk to all sorts of people so that she—and we—can try to put together some puzzle pieces before the story goes into full gear during the second act.

Not only is there terrific patience in storytelling, the film is not afraid to envelop us in silence. The niece’s funeral scene is a standout. From the moment Reiko and her young son (Rikiya Ôtaka) step into the funeral, there is no score. We barely hear shuffling of bodies moving about. We do not even hear the cries of mourners. When people speak, they tend to whisper—as if going above a certain decibel might wake or disturb the dead. It is very creepy, but at the same time it underscores the sadness of—and trauma from—lives taken way too soon. It genuinely feels like we are in a place of grief. Even when Reiko’s son makes his way upstairs, notice the picture does not revert to cheap scares. The emphasis is on how much the boy misses his cousin. He looks at her room differently now that she’s no longer alive.

Another important player in the story is Reiko’s ex-husband, Ryûji (Hiroyuki Sanada), who possesses a sixth sense when it comes to detecting surrounding auras. I admired screenwriter Hiroshi Takahashi’s decision in downplaying the idea that the likely reason Reiko and Ryûji divorced is due to his gift (or curse—depending on how one looks at it). There is a poetry shared between this man’s personal torment and the person responsible for the cursed VHS tape. I enjoyed the small moments when Ryûji finds himself relating to those who possessed special abilities but found themselves being rejected by society. “Ringu” is a story of outcasts.

The film can be criticized for lacking overt action. Its minimalism is precisely what I liked about it, which reminded me of the most humble but extremely well-written episodes of “The X-Files.” To inject chases, apparitions making direct contact with the living, a parade of jump scares, and the like would have taken away from the ruminative tone of the project. How can these elements fit when the point is to consider how one’s tragic pain can lead to lashing out at others? It asks us to empathize with “evil,” if that’s what it really is. That’s challenging. There is a confidence and focus to this work that not many horror films from the west can offer.


Life (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

As someone who works with microorganisms, the sci-fi horror movie “Life,” directed by Daniel Espinosa, is an expected but most welcome surprise. Think about it: there is something innately creepy or unsettling about dealing with something alive, potentially harmful, that we cannot see with a naked eye. This picture takes advantage of that concept for as long as it is able. Clearly inspired by Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic “Alien,” similarly crew members with a sense of humor who share a certain camaraderie being forced to face unimaginable horrors in space following a discovery of alien life, it manages to hit the right notes consistently enough to overcome some of the clichés within the sub-genre, particularly in how just about each astronaut eventually undergoes a most gruesome demise.

Initially, I was unimpressed. For a sci-fi picture set in a space station with an ambition to create as realistic an environment as possible, I found it to be annoyingly loud and ostentatious. Compare this to greats of the genre, especially alongside Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The harder it tries to engage the audience through visuals and sounds, an the air of detachment is all the more amplified. “Odyssey” works because it simply shows what is while this film tries to appeal to what we imagine science fiction should be like rather than a set, settled reality. Further, the former relishes the quiet but the latter is afraid of it at times. As a result, I felt as though I were peering into a snow globe—curious but in the back of my mind a part of me wasn’t entirely convinced.

Equally bothersome during the first quarter is its inappropriate use and number of closeups. When there is a fascinating organism on screen, most of the attention should be on that creature. We already have an idea how everyone in the room must feel like—because we feel those similar emotions, too. There is no need to cut to the performers’ facial expressions every other two seconds (Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya). Doing so takes away some of the excitement and breeds frustration. We want to see what is on that petri dish and learn what it is capable of.

Eventually, however, the film proves capable of first-rate entertainment. The first attack by the extraterrestrial made me question my own safety, despite wearing personal protective equipment, when handling minuscule organisms. I admired how efficiently the camera traps us into an increasingly impossible situation as the biologist (Bakare) handles the life form in a containment cube. The editing commands a certain rhythm to it that makes us want to look away because it is built up in such a way that some thing is about to occur soon… yet we cannot help but stare wide-eyed since we crave to see what happens next. The early deaths are appropriately horrifying and creative. The camera lingers on their lifeless faces.

The look of the alien is inspired. I enjoyed how it reminded me of deep-sea jellyfish. It does not appear particularly solid but has convincing strength when it pounces on its prey. It looks translucent, but it is highly agile and versatile. Credit goes to the writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick for putting to life a creature that is intelligent, a real threat to the increasingly desperate characters. And credit goes to the special and visual effects team for creating a convincing monster, not just another uninspired CGI monster-of-the-week with tentacles.