Nightmare Detective — movie review
Posted on March 25, 2008 by Chris Nelson
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Starring: Hitomi, Ryuhei Matsuda, Shinya Tsukamoto, Yoshio Harada, Ren Osugi
Genre: Japan, Horror, Supernatural, Splatter
Note: This was originally going to be an “in-brief” review, but it soon ballooned out of control. It’s not as polished as I would like, but it is what it is. Enjoy.
Taking cues from Nightmare on Elm Street, The Cell, detective thrillers, and possibly the ending to Hellraiser II: Bloodlines, Shinya Tsukamoto’s Nightmare Detective depicts a modern day Tokyo plagued by a sleep-invading serial killer. Targeting those with a hankering for self-destruction, the killer offs his victims in a fashion appearing to the police as excessive in-sleep self-mutilation – that is, until the bodies start piling up. Assigned to the case are an intrepid female cadet (pop idol, Hitomi), and a young man who ventures into people’s nightmares in hopes of healing past traumas (Ryuhei Matsuda, 4.6 Billion Years of Love). As you would expect, the stage is set for an ultimate in-dream showdown.
Sadly, I seem to find the films that feature Shinya Tsukamoto in supporting roles on average tend to be far more satisfying than the ones he directs. Nightmare Detective isn’t so much a bad film as one that simply gets lost on tangents. And, oddly enough, for the most part these tangents aren’t narrative sojourns, but cases of simple idol worship. Case in point: Hitomi. Now, I don’t mind Hitomi the singer, in fact, I think some of her songs are pretty good (check out “Japanese Girl”, “re-make”, and “There-is…”). And, to be completely honest, she’s not all that bad to look at (though Kris did point out that she looks quite a bit like Shuya…uncomfortably so.). But as an actress, Hitomi is downright terrible. At many points she seemed unsure of whether she should be depicting a scream queen or an AV starlet, alternately gasping and pouting, speaking in hushed whispers and throaty come-hithers. At one point a perusal of some rather grody crime-scene photos prompt her to gasp in shock, and engage in an immediate and suggestive self-rubbing…a reference to Cronenberg’s Crash perhaps?
If this were simple case of fish-out-of-water bad acting it could be forgiven, as the rest of the cast is fairly strong, but Tsukamoto seems determined to give the poor girl as much screen-time as possible. Throughout the film we are treated to lengthy closeups of Hitomi’s face, her manicured nails, and scenes of her in a variety of dress, in a variety of places, even when the story doesn’t necessarily merit it. At one point a character is in peril, yet the film cuts to a shot of Hitomi in a short skirt in an alleyway. There’s no context for the image, seemingly just a side effect of a director getting too much time with his number-one crush. Seriously, if you shortened most of these sequences by half, you could cut a good 15 minutes from the film’s runtime.
But Hitomi overload isn’t the only problem plaguing the film. At fault are some truly dizzying camera work and wonky editing. I actually felt a bit motion-sick watching the endless swirls and snap cuts, which did more to frustrate me than convey any sense of dread or danger. And like the casual Hitomi insertions, these cuts more often than not simply served to pull me further and further out of an otherwise intriguing story.
But I make the film sound like a complete disaster. Surely this is not the case. Aside from these glaring faults outlined above, there are actually quite a few cool things to be seen in Nightmare Detective. The film starts of extremely strong, creating a tangible sense of dread and oppressive danger, the likes of which most American horror films only hope to attain. The flip-flopping squishy sounds that herald the arrival of an unseen monster are some of the creepiest sound effects I’ve heard in quite some time. Lastly, the various incarnations of the dream attacker prove increasingly gooey, the final one earning the reference found in my opening paragraph. Lastly, the camera, once settled down and finished with stargazing, captures some truly eye-catching imagery. Some of the more interesting shots prove beautiful and threatening at the same time.
In closing, Nightmare Detective wasn’t anywhere near as good as I thought it would be, but the premise was interesting enough to keep me trudging through to the end of the film. I can’t say I would recommend it fully, but I’m interested in what the sequel might hold. Oh, and as an added bonus, for those of you not familiar with Hitomi, just check out this link.
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