The Complex (2013) by Hideo Nakata

Atsuko Maeda has restless spirits to contend with in this horror from “Ring” director Hideo Nakata. Asuka Ninomiya (Maeda) has just moved to a decrepit apartment block with her parents and younger brother, Satoshi (Ruiki Sato). The reclusive neighbour begins to take on a terrifying aspect when Asuka hears scratching on the other side of the wall at night. She also meets a lonely boy playing in a nearby park, named Minoru (Kanau Tanaka). Asuka’s strange experience grow even stranger as she begins to suffer from déjà vu and learns that the apartment may be haunted.

Director Hideo Nakata knows just how to build tension from the smallest incident. Everything from the flickering lightbulb outside the apartment and the scratching on the wall,, create a sense that something is slightly off. The script by Junya Kato and Ryuka Miyake blends traditional ghost house aesthetic, with the setting of an old rust-stained apartment block, and psychological terror as we are not sure what Asuka’s experiences really mean. There are moments in the film that are genuinely terrifying without the need for excessive gore or violence, the slow turn of a head, or the sudden cut to the following scene. The use of lighting and colour is also noteworthy, particularly in the later half as it is used more dramatically. This use of simple techniques, rather than the need for outrageous effects, helps the film develop natural scares. Unfortunately, this is undermined somewhat later in the film with a couple of moments that are almost parodic in their excessive attempts to shock. The story also devolves as things progress, beginning as an interesting ghost story with a psychological angle, it seems that too much is expected of it later on and it starts to break apart slightly. Mostly the plot-holes and weaknesses in the story are counterbalanced by the fantastic horror elements, which may not be original but are nevertheless handled expertly.

As with Nakata’s previous work “Dark Water”, “The Complex” breaks down the ghost story and attempts to weave through it something with emotional depth. Ideas of an afterlife and restless spirits are interwoven with themes of survivor guilt and regret. Similar to “Reincarnation” (2005) by Takashi Shimizu, the film becomes an exploration of Asuka’s psyche as she deals with the trauma of her past. The appearance of Minoru seems to be an element that is somewhat misplaced as his story doesn’t tie in exactly with either of the protagonists. It feels a little like a separate film has intruded, one about vengeful demons and infernal punishment. An intriguing horror that lacks a little of the depth of Nakata’s earlier works, but nevertheless delivers its fair share of chills.

Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell (2012) by Shinichi Fukazawa

Bodybuilder Shinji (Shinichi Fukazawa), his ex-girlfriend (Asako Nosaka), and a psychic (Masaaki Kai) enter a haunted apartment in this low-budget splatter horror. 30 years after his father’s death, killed by an angry girlfriend, Shinji and the others head there, led by his ex-girlfriend who is investigating the paranormal. Not long after arriving they disturb the ghost of his father’s vengeful lover and are forced to do battle with the evil spirit. This film apparently had a long production period, with filming beginning in 1995 and editing in 2005.

Written and directed by star Shinichi Fukazawa, the film’s shoestring budget give it a homemade charm, with shaky physical effects, blood spatter, and dodgy CG, creating a wacky, over-the-top tone that is more comedic that terrifying. The film is firmly tongue-in-cheek, the bodybuilding protagonist reminiscent of typical action hero types, and the surreal slapstick of much of the story and the effects raises a few smiles. Moments such as the heroes being unable to burn a corpse because one recently quit smoking on the advice of the other; or severed limbs attacking independent of a body, all play into the blackly humour tone The film is shot on grainy film stock that also adds to the feel of a throwback horror. The apartment setting does lend a claustrophobic attitude and ensures things keep moving. A a little over an hour in length there is no time to rest as the trio attempt to fight their way to safety. There are rarely moments of respite given they are never more than a room away from a demonic spirit. If you are a fan of silly low-budget splatter films then this does the job, with an outrageous premise and some fun effects work.

Juho 2405 (2013) by Toichiro Ruto

A newscaster begins to see horrifying waking nightmares involving a young girl in this psychological horror. Reika (Yuka Masuda) is troubled by visions of various crimes she is reporting on, seeing the figure of a mysterious ghost appearing at each scene. Following a complete breakdown she is admitted to hospital where she meets a young girl Akane, who appears to be connected to these cases. Reika becomes unable to distinguish what is real as she starts to remember a tragedy that happened 10 years before.

“Juho 2045”, based on a story by Tomokazu Yamada with a screenplay by Erika Tanaka, follows many familiar horror tropes: a vengeful spirit, a mysterious past, and a protagonist with a slowly deteriorating psyche. The acting is melodramatic and the story predictable, but there are things to enjoy here. From the start there are some stunning visuals and solid special effects. It does a good job of creating an eerie atmosphere. It doesn’t take too long to unravel the central mystery, but with the added psychological elements there are a few surprises along the way. The chilling score by Ken Matsubara (G@me) also ramps up the tension, despite the inclusion of an ill-fitting pop song partway through.

The film leans on several popular themes, such as suicide, pregnancy, revenge and the horrors of the past coming back. It adds an interesting angle to the traditional ghost story in the claim that young spirits are less likely to act morally or logically, their sense of right and wrong being underdeveloped. This may however be a poor attempt to explain away the film’s lack of a logical plot. The story could have benefitted from more character development of Sachiko, the child’s mother, with her story not covered in too much detail. Also, the film sets up an interesting premise with Reika as a newscaster, ideas of the media perhaps pushing people to suicide, or the representation of crimes and tragedies in the news, being an angle that is not pursued in enough detail. Overall, “Juho 2405” is an entertaining horror, with strong visuals and a fun psychological element, but it could have done more with its themes and characters.

Reincarnation (2005) by Takashi Shimizu

Nagisa Sugiura (Yuka) is auditioning for a role in a film adaptation of a real-life murder story. Many years before a man killed eleven people at a hotel in Gunma, including his own son and daughter. Nagisa is cast to play the young 10-year old daughter who was murdered, but things soon take a sinister turn when she begins to see visions of this girl and starts to wonder if there is something supernatural going on. Another actress, Yuka (Marika Matsumoto), a firm believer in reincarnation tells her this could be a possible explanation, something hinted at throughout. As work begins on the film the director Matsumura (Kippei Shiina) takes the cast and crew to the hotel where this horrific incident took place and Nagisa begins to spiral into a nightmare somewhere between memory and hallucination.

Directed by Takashi Shimizu (The Grudge, Marebito) from a screenplay by Shimizu and Masaki Adachi. “Reincarnation” is a chilling experience, mixing a haunted hotel mystery with psychological horror. By setting up the film within a film, the writers create doubt about what is going on that continues until the final moments. We are never sure how much of what we are seeing is real, or whether Nagisa is hallucinating. This sense of unease is pervasive, particularly later in the film, as it is not only the characters but the audience themselves whose sense of reality is being toyed with. Whereas many horror films offer an easy escape, the villain of this piece is not easily identifiable, and so impossible to counter. This sense of an unstable reality is heightened with great use of practical effects, such as the appearance of the young girl who was murdered at various moments. The editing also plays with the sense of space, by having the camera move from the real world of Nagisa, into her imagination, through the memories and old footage of the incident, and the constructed set of the film. This perfectly captures her increasingly warped psyche as she tries to establish what is happening to her. The music by Kenji Kawai (Dark Water) creates a dark atmosphere with echoing strings and synth providing an ominous backdrop to the action. The use of creaks and knocks and later the whirring of an old-fashioned camera help to build a soundscape that is terrifying without the need for bombast. The film builds a quiet dread throughout, rarely relying on gore or shock moments, but a creeping terror that draws you in and has you on the edge of your seat. The simplest of effects are done with finesse, such as the child’s doll that comes to life, or the sudden traumatic flashes of murder victims that assault Nagisa when they visit the hotel. Much of this imagery gets under the skin and troubles you long after it has passed, creating that feeling of an ineffable darkness waiting beyond this world. The terror of the unknown is brought to the fore. There are moments that don’t make strict logical sense, such as Nagisa’s casting as a 10-year old girl. However, this matters very little in the overall scheme of things, as we get the full psychological and emotional weight of what Nagisa is going through in a way that may have been diluted if everything was neatly explained. Yuka gives a great performance as the haunted and terrified Nagisa, capturing her descent into fear and panic as she struggles to untangle the strange web of unfamiliar memories she is caught in.

“Reincarnation” relies on familiar tropes, such as restless spirits and revenge, but does everything so well that it is a model of how these stories should be told. The idea of ghosts returning to life to seek vengeance plays on the primal fear of the unknown. Death is the great boundary that people can only cross in one direction and the thought that there may be two-way traffic is disturbing. It also ties into notions of guilt and shame about tragic events that have happened and the inability of people to change them. Nagisa is deeply troubled by the events of the past. We also witness her feelings being dismissed or disbelieved by those around her, again offering a deeper layer of horror to events. Not only is she beginning to lose any solid foundation for her reality, she increasingly has nobody to turn to for reassurance. “Reincarnation” is an excellent example of a film with great scares born of the concept and characters, truly terrifying in parts, with a dark twist.