Monsterz (2014) by Hideo Nakata

A man (Tatsuya Fujiwara) with the power to control other people’s actions comes up against his greatest adversary when he meets someone who is impervious to his abilities. After a traumatic childhood, Fujiwara’s sinister protagonist turns to a life of crime, using his abilities to freeze people in time and manipulate them to his will. He is shocked to discover that a young removal man, Shuichi (Takayuki Yamada) is unaffected by this and sets out to destroy him. Shuichi also seems to have peculiar qualities of his own, recovering exceptionally quickly from accidents that would be fatal to others.

Hideo Nakata (The Ring) directs this film in what is a departure from the straight horror fare he is best known for. “Monzters” is a remake of an earlier Korean film “Haunters” written by Min-suk Kim, with the Japanese script here by Yusuke Watanabe. It is a dark superhero narrative, with a villain and hero fated to do battle, leaning more towards action that suspense. There are a few moments of horror, such as the opening sequences and scenes in which people are forced to snap their own necks, but the tone remains fairly light throughout. The story is hard to take seriously and there are moments that tip over into pure farce, such as the two boxers being controlled to come and beat up Shuichi, or the scene in which he saves a baby by diving over a railing. Part of the problem with the film is a lack of significant characterisation. There are ideas here that are never fully developed Fujiwara and Yamada do a decent job with relatively little to work with. Fujiwara is suitably unlikeable as the villain, evoking a degree of sympathy with a tragic backstory, an outcast who has turned against the world; while Yamada’s Shuichi is a likeable protagonist. The supporting cast include Ochiai Motoki and Nakano Taiga as Shuichi’s friends, and Satomi Ishihara. Kenji Kawai’s score is one of the highlights of the film, lending some much needed emotionality and tension, with a poignant undertone to the drama and sinister clanking industrial soundtrack supporting Nakata’s darker visuals.

While for the most part “Monsterz” is a fairly formulaic superhero action film, there is an interesting concept at work in the Fujiwara character. The question of whether criminals, or ‘monsters’ as he is described in the film, are born or made is one that has been discussed in many works of film and literature. The film unfortunately relies on the trope of disability as an indication of evil, Fujiwara’s limp becoming a symbol of his sinister nature as with Richard III’s hump-back and disfigurement. Similarly, there is little grey area in the portrayal of Fujiwara and Yamada. The villain has certain sympathetic motives, hated and abused by his father, cast out from society, but these points are again brushed over, and we mostly see him only as the ‘monster’ he is seen as by others. A more nuanced take on both him and Shuichi may have benefitted the film, adding a little more nuance to the depictions of good and evil. Overall, a fairly entertaining dark superhero narrative, but it feels as though Nakata was restrained by the material, a crowd-pleasing action film, and unable to deliver something truly thrilling.

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.

Ring (1998) by Hideo Nakata

The film opens on two high-school girls sharing ghost stories about a cursed videotape. Rumour has it that those who watch the videotape receive a call soon after and are told by a mysterious voice that they will die in one week. One of the girls admits to having seen the tape with three others a week before. When they all die unexpectedly on the same day a reporter, Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima), begins to follow the case of the cursed tape. When she watches the tape herself the phonecall comes shortly after and she must race to discover the secret of the tape in order to prevent her own death.

Based on a novel by Koji Suzuki, the film has a simple plot and builds a believable mythology surrounding the cursed tape. From the eerie opening violin stings the score by Kenji Kawai builds a sense of dread as we follow the characters on this dark journey. Although the film is regarded as a horror, it is more of a mystery thriller  flat-out terrifying. Director Hideo Nakata does a fantastic job of creating tension and the film is strongest when it relies on subtle camera angles or sinister situations that cheap shocks. An effective ghost story which uses minimal gore but a great deal of atmosphere and suspense.