Thursday, March 11, 2010

Nightmare Detective

I was all set to enjoy this film. And I tried, believe me, I tried. How could it be bad? Directed by that titan of Tokyo transgression Shinya Tsukamoto (A Snake of June, Tokyo Fist, Hiruko the Goblin, Gemeni, Tetsuo the Iron Man) and featuring a cast of Japanese cult film favorites like Masanobu Ando (Battle Royale, Kids Return) and Ryuhei Matsuda (Taboo, Izo) as well as crusty but benign stalwarts Ren Osugi and Yoshio Harada (their works too numerous to mention), it seemed like a slam dunk. So what happened? Well, as Groucho Marx once remarked after a particularly bad joke, "They can't all be good. You've got to expect that."

Considering Tsukamoto's stature and body of work, I suppose he's entitled to a stinker now and then. And Nightmare Detective is that odoriferous offering. The story begins with a promising array of elements (murder, suicide, psychic phenomena, dark doings in the dreamworld, a monster), yet they all soon melt into so much boring mush. Two factors are fatal to one's enjoyment of the picture: 1) a non-actress in a pivotal role and 2) a talky talkfest of a script. The latter problem speaks for itself (in overlong, repetitive dialog sequences). As for the former, it boils down to the abilities (or lack thereof) of mononomial model/singer Hitomi. She's beautiful in a computer-generated sort of way, but only manages to muster one facial expression throughout the film, a sour frown. The camera, or perhaps Tsukamoto himself, loves Hitomi, so we get lots of long extreme close-ups of her frozen visage creating a feeling more like flipping through a magazine than watching a movie.

The film occasionally stumbles into something interesting, like the surprisingly compelling arguments for suicide delivered by Tsukamoto himself (here playing a knife-wielding maniac whose own wounds are somehow healed when someone else takes their own life). And of course the gory action sequences are top-notch, especially when we get a glimpse of the rampaging nightmare beast. But that's about it. Overall, Nightmare Detective is 20% intriguing, 80% deadly dull.

So instead of watching this film, may I suggest instead checking out one of the others I mentioned en passant? You'll have a much better time and any resultant nightmares will be good ones!

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