IFFR 2009: NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE 2 Review

To say we are fans of Shinya Tsukamoto here at Twitch is an understatement. He is without a doubt one of the most intelligent filmmakers today, so much so that his films often transcend whatever genre you try to fit them in.

So it was with both pleasure and apprehension that I noted his "Nightmare Detective 2" being part of the programme of this year's International Film Festival Rotterdam.

Pleasure because it's Tsukamoto, and Todd's review way back when was very positive.
And apprehension because to my shame I still hadn't seen the first "Nightmare Detective" yet.

Alas, my untimely ordering of the DVD resulted in me having to watch part 2 before seeing part 1.
Don't you hate it when that happens?

Thankfully no previous knowledge is necessary to watch "Nightmare detective 2" because the character never became less enigmatic after the first movie. Having (finally!) seen both, I can safely say that you can intermix them as freely as two "Miss Marple" films.

And I'm glad I watched it for "Nightmare detective 2" gives an extraordinary view on both fear and grief, managing not only to move me out of my seat but also to, you know, MOVE me.

More after the break...

The Story:

Kagenuma is cursed with the ability to read people's minds and can even enter their dreams. The first movie already showed that this is nowhere near as cool a superpower to have as it sounds: most people do not think kindly of strangers, especially ones that look as much like a bum as Kagenuma does. So he spends his time locking himself in his tiny bare apartment, blocking out the hostile thoughts surrounding him. His only solace comes from playing with the neighborhood children who are nowhere near as judgmental as grown-ups are.

But things have grown worse of late: Kagenuma is plagued by terrible nightmares about his mother. She was so frightened of him and his abilities that she tried to kill him as a child, and ended up committing suicide herself.
Trouble is, Kagenuma can only fix other people's dreams, not his own.
Wallowing in self-pity he is not the least bit interested when a schoolgirl asks him to help her with her recurring nightmare. But then people having that same nightmare start dying. And at the center of that mystery is one of the schoolgirl's classmates, who is just as frightened as Kagenuma's mother always used to be.

Intrigued, and only because he hopes to be able to better understand his own nightmares, Kagenuma once more becomes the Nightmare Detective and enters the schoolgirl's dreamworld...


The Movie:

Normally I would be tempted to call this film a glorious mess. It mixes so many unusual ingredients and has such a blatant disregard for telling a straightforward story, that you might guess this would turn into incomprehensible, pretentious crap. There are classic J-horror ghosts by the busload (literally!), nightmares, visions, flashbacks and premonitions. And I wish everyone good luck sorting them all out, for director Shinya Tsukamoto expects his audience to pay attention and is not going to spoonfeed you all the details. In the end, does the film even explain who or what exactly was killing the people having the recurrent nightmare?

Thing is, this not a normal movie. It has a decent flow from beginning till the end, and if some things remain unexplained it is only because Tsukamoto is not particularly interested in telling you. What he DOES focus on is the inner turmoil of his two protagonists: the schoolgirl who is NOT your average heroine-in-peril, and Kagenuma himself. Both do not emerge unchanged from this adventure, and seeing these persons grow is what elevates this movie far above what you would normally consider a thriller or J-horror. It helps that these two characters are impressively played by Yui Miura as the schoolgirl, but especially by Ryuhei Matsuda who reprises his role as Kagenuma, the Nightmare Detective.

For Kagenuma is quite a special character in this movie, and not just because he has extraordinary powers. He was the ultimate reluctant hero throughout the first film, almost a coward and certainly a whiny git. Even the villain of the first movie admired Kagenuma's abilities but was scornful of the man wielding them. And this is the same Kagenuma we see at the start of "Nightmare detective 2".
But in THIS film Kagenuma has one classic heroic moment, and you feel like cheering when it happens. For once, he is actively hunting for something and in that moment he seems invulnerable, using force against an opponent who turns out not to be a match for him. And it gives Kagenuma the courage to look at himself, at least temporarily.

I'm not going to spoil what it all leads up to, but I am impressed by what Tsukamoto does here. He manages to make some very scary sequences where not much actually happens and he creates a stifling, consistent atmosphere. Yet "Nightmare Detective 2" sports the unlikeliest of climaxes and I was touched by the direction Tsukamoto took to resolve matters for Kagenuma.

Lots of impressive and interesting imagery here, which stayed with me till long after the movie ended...


Conclusion:

Shinya Tsukamoto has made a very impressive film with some strong statements about loss and grief, and has wrapped this in a fantasy horror mystery thriller. People expecting a regular entry from one of those four genres are in for either a rude awakening or a pleasant surprise.
For me "Nightmare Detective 2" was a pleasant surprise, but many people I spoke with after the viewing were less enamored by the convoluted story.

The Rotterdam audiences awarded this film a score of 3.3 out of 5. However, I cannot imagine Tsukamoto fans to be anything but delighted by this film and think this score is way too low.

In short: this film is Highly Recommended!

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