Retribution (2006) dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Starring: Koji Yakusho, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Manami Konishi
Guest review by Pasukaru
J-Horror had once been a term propagated proudly among Asian film geeksters (before the remake frenzy), but is now voiced in an embarrassed undertone. Japanese horror has probably seen its heyday come and go, but who knows - there still may be a new masterpiece on the horizon, and who better to deliver it than Kiyoshi Kurosawa. His seminal film “Pulse” (2001) is certainly one of the finest examples of the genre, and so I eagerly opened the DVD case to his latest offering, despite it going virtually unnoticed in movieland (most likely J-horror fatigue).
Fade in. Once again, Kiyoshi casts Koji Yakusho as the brooding leading man, Yoshioka. This time he investigates the murder of a woman in a red dress drowned in salt water. Soon, evidence implicates our hero as the murderer, and has his partner, played by Tsuyoshi Ihara, suspecting him. Did Yoshioka do it? This is an intriguing way to start a murder mystery, as this device has become a clichéd third act twist in a great many psychological thrillers. Our main man, of course, can’t remember a thing and obsessively, and aggressively, hunts for the real killer while suffering from a mental breakdown. Before you can say “Sadako”, a longhaired ghost in a red dress starts appearing. In all fairness, "Retribution" isn’t as tired as it sounds, but a man in a red dress would have been a nice departure. Alas, conventions are conventions. Eventually, Yoshioka connects the dots, rules out a single killer, and finds a supernatural link from his past to the bizarre murders.
"Retribution" is generally unique, but somewhat unsatisfying. There’s something about collective guilt over the neglect of the needy in the face of unchecked modernization, or something, but it’s a weak hook to hang your coat on. Sure, the ghost is angry (we get it), but the relationship to her victims and Yoshioka is not convincing. I simply could never wrap my head around the ghost’s motivations, and felt her appearances were more silly than scary - ie. there's a scene where the ghost takes flight over the city which is unintentionally funny.
Nonetheless, director Kiyoshi brings a refreshing intellect to the worn-out genre, which can't be said of his other J-Horror imitators. Kiyoshi creates a unique haunting mood consistent over all his films with the help of his beautiful and striking compositions. Koji Yakusho deserves recognition for playing what could have been some ridiculous scenes totally straight and convincing. By the resolution, we are on his side, engaged by his torment, which supersedes the laughter the events may have induced.
Ultimately, "Retribution" serves as a showcase for gifted filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa, because in the hands of any lesser director this story would probably have been a complete farce. All being said, it’s a worthy addition to the genre. Kurosawa will be back with better films.