Sunday 8 November 2009

Premonition (2004)

Director: Noria Tsuruta
Stars: Horishi Mikami, Noriko Sakai, Maki Horikita, Mayumi Ono, Kei Yamamoto and Kazuko Yoshiyuki
Five year old Nana Satomi is on her way back from a trip to her grandpa's with her parents when they stop at a roadside phone booth. Her father, Hideki Satomi, is a university lecturer and he needs to send some important e-mail that won't go through on his cellphone, so this is the only other option to hand. While in the booth waiting for the transfer to go through, he catches sight of a scrap of newspaper that contains news of his daughter's death, at eight o'clock that evening, in an auto collision. Sure enough, it's eight o'clock and his wife Ayaka walks over to him, leaving Nana in the car. A truck driver, already dead from a seizure, ploughs into it at high speed, leaving their Nana dead, just as the now vanished newspaper scrap detailed.

Three years later the Satomis are divorced but both come up against this phenomenon again. A student in one of Hideki's classes called Sayuri Wakakubo writes down the details of the latest in a series of random knifings on her test paper, a day ahead of the actual story. She becomes the victim, as predicted, and he's unable to save her. Meanwhile Ayaka, now reverted to her former name of Tachihara, is doing research into the paranormal, getting mediums to visualise images in their heads before taking Polaroids with blocked off cameras. One such knows about the 'newspaper of terror' phenomenon, which has been written about by a man called Rei Kigata, who suggests that it's tied to the Akashic Record, the location where all events, past and present, are stored and broadcast out at the appropriate points in time.

So the Satomis reconnect, so constructing this story out of an intriguing set of emotions and driving forces. Hideki is consumed by guilt because he sees his inability to save his daughter and his student as his own fault. He tries to avoid newspapers, which have a habit of getting back to him anyway in strange ways, suggesting that he can't escape their messages even if he tries. Such people who can receive these messsages often end up in asylums, the Satomis seeing the relics left behind by one such example, a man who was so compelled to write them down that even without pen or paper he continued, eventually biting out his tongue and writing in his own blood. Hideki finds this compulsion building in him too, suggesting that his future is not going to be a happy one.
Ayaka, who shared her husband's loss, initially didn't believe him but obviously found some compulsion of her own to investigate the phenomenon that he seemed to be an example of. She doesn't believe him but she wants to and her drive to research is what finds what answers there are. She's a lovely little thing, played by Noriko Sakai, whose previous two films could hardly be more different: as the lead in Ju-on 2, the theatrical Grudge sequel, and as the narrator to a Pokemon short, Pokemon: Pichu and Pikachu. Originally a singer, she became an actress but lately is more recognised for her drug scandal.

Hideki is played by Hiroshi Mikami, a strange looking man, more of a Japanese version of Edward James Olmos or Brian Pulido. He gets to portray much of the emotional range of this film, and he's great at expressing shock but not so good at coming out of it. As the film runs on, especially when we hit the seemingly neverending blitz of a finale, he gets plenty of opportunity to be thrust every which way but loose by the uncaring hands of fate. I find it a little bizarre that he's so good at these difficult parts of the role yet less effective at some of the throwaway parts of it. This is currently his most recent film though he has credits going back to the seventies.

The film is a powerful one. It relies less on shocks than most J-horror films, at least until it's ready, so it plays slower than we might generally expect. I don't see that as a bad thing, because it doesn't drag. It merely ends up feeling a little differently to films that might otherwise be its obvious comparisons. We're less focused on the horror and more on the intense feeling of inevitability that the film evokes, so it's less a shock based film like Final Destination and more a treatment of what one man must go through before choosing his own fate. There are no easy ways out here and that resonates for more intensely than what happens while you try to find one.

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