And this blog awakes from a long, restless sleep to find out Kiyoshi Kurosawa had a new film playing at the New York Asian Film Festival – a film whose existence I was completely unaware of, despite Kurosawa being one of my very favorite filmmakers and that the movie had premiered not too long ago at the Berlinale. It was a very deep sleep, indeed. So I got my ticket and happily walked to the theater without knowing much about it, which in the case of Kyioshi Kurosawa makes very little difference.
After all, the whole critical platitude about his departure from horror films with the masterpiece Tokyo Sonata (2008) has always been blatantly flawed. Even if the scope of the statement gets expanded from horror to genre films, it would still be hard to accommodate works such as Charisma (1999) and Bright Future (2003) under such reductive umbrellas. In fact, Kurosawa has always been a filmmaker who complemented an unmistakable sense of style with an extreme mobility, and his films can quietly go from horror to gangster narratives, from drama to slapstick comedy, from post-mimetic symbolism to gore, sometimes taking vertiginous shifts in tone from one scene to the next, making statements such as this very hard to anchor.
Let auteristic historicism tone down the boldness of inaccurate criticism: since Kiyoshi Kurosawa was never strictly a horror director, Creepy (2016) is not really a comeback, but arguably his first feature length enterprise in the genre in ten years. What’s ironic is that, despite the common impression that the festival circuit and the press that gathers around it make of genre films still as niche productions, Creepy is most likely Kurosawa’s most illustrative film to date of himself as an auteur: the walls stained by water infiltration, the unrealistic car rides in the sky, the quiet rebellion of home appliances against the crumbling normalcy of daily life, the dry outbursts of violence that favor the echoless reverberation over the complexity of the acts themselves, the way evil is nothing but a manifestation of the ruin of the nuclear family, of the picture-perfect reality desired by the characters and calmly contemplated by his compositions… everything we’ve come to notice as frequent patterns in a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film is present here, yet heightened – its flavors not only preserved during the 10 year time-off in the genre since Retribution (2006), but intensified, as if kept vacuum-sealed.
That creates a paradox of sorts: some form of baroque minimalism. Creepy is, in many ways, a typical Kurosawa film, except the dry gunshots are louder, the décor more stylized, the car ride in the sky gets fogged by heavy clouds, the precision of the staging is even more sparse and the presence of evil is disseminated by what seems to be a superfluously busy plot. In the end, what the movie does is to restate, in slightly louder words, the power of everything Kiyoshi Kurosawa has slowly refined through the years: the unsettling nature of the peculiar way a character walks or the energy with which a dog moves in space, the invasive way a gaze peers into the camera and the uninterested resilience with which a ghost stands there, among the living. In Kurosawa’s films, horror isn’t a genre, but a redundancy, an unnecessary highlight of some of cinema’s most essential features which reactivates the disturbing ghostly quality of the cinematic experience itself.
* Seen on DCP at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, as part of the New York Asian Film Festival 2016.