Friday, October 4, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Premonition (Yogen) (予言) (2004)

I love horror movies because of what they can do when they are spot on. A good horror movie won't just scare you, it will make you a wreck of a person. Once you get into a horror movie, really experience it, it can become a transcendent incident unto itself. That probably makes no sense. Let me put it this way: if a good horror movie can scare you, a great one will be a lingering fear within you for the rest of your life. You will think back on it as things happen in your daily life. It will become a part of you just as easily as the bad or mediocre horror movies are forgotten memories, only dredged up if you actively think about that certain movie.

Yogen, or Premonition to us English speakers, is such a movie. I don't even have words for what i just watched. I mean, yes, I'll write down a ton of words, but none of them will be a meaningful as my reactions as I watched this movie. Very few movies make me react viscerally to them. I can only tick off a few: Possession from 1981, Jacob's Ladder1408,  and that's about it. I mean, I'm sure there are a couple of others that I'm simply not remembering, but this movie... this movie was brilliant in every sense of the word.

It was not shot as a horror movie, and with most of the film being setup, it had very few moments of actual horror. But when those moments popped up it certainly hit me in a very visceral way. I was shocked at some of the things that happen in this movie, and not simply jump-scare shocked, but truly horrified at what happens. It is a slow-burn of a movie, even at only about an hour-and-a-half long. It feels like a much longer film.

As I said before, most of the movie is setup. It establishes the rules of this movie universe. It sets up the whole idea of fate, and that some people seem to be "gifted" to see what could happen in the future, or in this case, who will die and how. And these are not peaceful deaths either, but deaths of a violent and often very sudden nature. While we see very little of the actual deaths and dying, the ones that we do get to see are awful, really be benchmarks in how to film a death in a horror movie.

But would I even call this a horror movie? I was certainly shocked and horrified, but horror doesn't rightly describe this film. It is a film about terror, about trying to understand the workings of the universe and being completely unable to do so in any meaningful way. It is a film that shockingly states that there is very little we can do against the universe, and in the end we can only truly somewhat control our own fate and nothing else.

The movie is about a man, an overworked, very stressed out man named Hideki, who needs to send an email to his work, but that decision ultimately leads to his daughter being killed in a car accident. And that accident is so sudden that it literally shocked me out of my seat. His life turns into a mess. He loses, or gives up, his wife. And his whole demeanor changes. It doesn't change because his daughter dies though. It changes because he sees, or thinks he sees, a newspaper article concerning her death before she dies. He does nothing, and his guilt is what drives a wedge between his wife and himself, and basically everybody else as well.

Over time he starts seeing more of these newspapers around, foretelling deaths and terrible things. And he continues to do nothing about it. He doesn't try to change anything.He simply gets freaked out and doesn't want to deal with it. Then, when he sees a student of his in his newspaper of fate, getting stabbed to death, he tries to get involved, only to be too late to save her.

The movie moves on as we see his ex-wife, Ayaka, researching the phenomena he has been experiencing to try to grasp what is actually going on. Eventually, as she finds a psychic photograph of Hideki taken by a psychic person she had been working with who seemed to have died, possibly violently? It's never really shown how or why. Anyway, she starts to believe him, tries to talk with him, and eventually does. They team up to try to solve the mystery of what's happening only to find a great deal more than they would have expected.

It is a movie that goes through many twists and turns. Those who can see the future as he does are cursed. Either they go mad and die if they do not help the people in the newspapers out or they blacken and shrivel away like some sort of living spectre if they do warn those people and save their lives. So, it's a no-win situation. Hideki has chosen up to this point to do nothing, but when his ex-wife, whom he has become close to again, is mentioned dying in an article about a train derailment, he chooses to save her, thus damning himself. He changes her fate and that changes his as well.

The end of the movie is a cerebral turn that jumps from one memory to another. It is dreamlike, and called Hell by another character who is experiencing it... or who has. It's unclear exactly how much of it is real or really happening. This is the most terrifying and upsetting part of the movie, and the part that will probably be make or break for most people. It never seems to "really" be happening, but at the same time it is a part of the movie, and the most important part at that. I connected with the characters, really seeing them as beautiful pieces put into this film. They work well, and the ending works well because that added effort was put into making them as good as possible.

Anyway, in the end, Hideki chooses to sacrifice himself so that both his daughter and wife will live. And it is shown that that is his choice, but also somewhat his fate. The psychic picture of him was of his death photograph in the newspaper at the end of the movie that his daughter sees. So, how much of the end of the movie was his choice and how much was his fate is certainly up in the air, at least to me.

I don't really know what else to say. The movie is amazing from beginning to end. The music is wonderful when it actually happens. The filmography is well done. The acting is brilliant and believable with the actors being one of the biggest highlights of the viewing experience. The plot is well done, based on a manga "Kyoufu Shinbun" ("Newspaper of Terror) by Jiro Tsunoda published in 1973, and is certainly the best part of the film, so much so that... I just have no other words for it.

As for the director Norio Tusuruta, I had reviewed one of his other movies last year in fact. I did not like Kakashi very much and subsequently kind of eviscerated the movie for being a wishy-washy mess. Junji Ito films sadly tend to have that quality about them. This movie though, with its genuinely great script, great acting, great production quality, and great cinematography works on every level that Kakashi didn't. So much so that I basically want to apologize to Norio (even though I said I liked the directing of Kakashi) because this effort shows true quality that I have huge amounts of respect for.

This movie is also the second movie made in the J-Horror Theater series of movies, and that might be why the production values are so good.

Do I recommend this movie? Yes. Hell yes. Go see this movie whether or not you like Japanese horror. It is both a great movie and a great and viscerally upsetting horror movie. It deserves to be both watched and praised.

Also, since this is the first movie of the six J-Horror Theater movies that I've seen, and since it was so good, I've decided to check out the others in the series as well. Hopefully they keep up the quality.

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