An investigation into potential insurance fraud turns into something far more sinister in this crime thriller. Wakatsuki (Seiyo Uchino), working at an insurance firm, receives a call from a woman named Sachiko (Shinobu Otake) asking if she would receive a payout in the case of suicide. When he goes to the house he finds her strange husband, Shigeru (Masahiko Nishimura), and discovers their son, Kazuya, hanging in the next room. Shocked by the discovery the firm begin an investigation into the family, with Wakatsuki suspecting foul play. Things turn deadly as bodies start to pile up and suspicion falls on Sachiko, who seems surrounded by cases of disability and death leading to insurance claims.
“The Black House” is based on the book of the same name by Yusuke Kishi and directed by Yoshimitsu Morita. The film starts off in a seemingly casual manner, soft jazz score and the somewhat mundane day-to-day work of Wakatsuki’s insurance company. The mild-mannered investigators and bright settings, makes the reveal of Kazuya’s body in a shockingly matter-of-fact manner, all the more terrifying. As the film goes on it plays with this discrepancy in tone; the horror influences becoming more apparent as Wakatsuki’s investigation proceeds. It is hard to know if the tonal inconsistencies are entirely intentional, with the film varying wildly in style and atmosphere. Perhaps the most egregious example is the scene in a girl’s bar with a scantily clad dancer accompanied by rave music, fitting uncomfortably with everything before and after. The film’s genteel investigation is constantly being disrupted by harsh, graphic violence more reminiscent of a gritty crime thriller; the run-of-the-mill daytime soap-opera tone of the investigation providing a counterbalance and stark relief to the horror. That being said, once the main investigation into Sachiko’s family gets underway it keeps up a pace with twists and turns in the plot and this lurking dread that something monstrous is about to be uncovered. The use of colour, in particular Sachiko’s yellow clothing, the flashing coloured lights of the investigation room, and the gaudy single-colour cuts between some scenes, reflects the psychological element of the film, and the film-maker’s seem to play with the audiences expectations and experience in other ways, such as the aforementioned tonal shifts, the wild swings in the score from melodic to harsh screeches or dark industrial resonance.
“The Black House” does a great job at building up its horror incrementally, at first only hinting at the sinister, nihilistic outlook of its central villain, before racing towards a blood-soaked finale. Through the characters of psychiatrist Kaneishi (Kenichi Katsura) and Wakatsuki’s girlfriend Megumi (Misato Tanaka), we are treated to discussions of Jungian dream analysis and descriptions of psychopathic traits. While the antagonists are clearly unhinged, their behaviour is not so unbelievable as to not be chilling. With its blend of crime drama and horror, “The Black House” has something for fans of either genre, with a strong story and idiosyncratic style making for a gripping watch.