Monday, March 2, 2009

Day Twenty-Seven: Kairo (2001) - Rank 3/5


This film was easily one of the creepiest damn films I've seen in some time. Regrettably, it was also the most incoherent and I found myself watching the opening half hour twice in an effort to try and figure out exactly what was happening. The basic gist is a website has arisen that allows Internet uses to view actual ghosts - ghosts that invade the real world once anyone begins watching them. After that, the guilty voyeur joins the realm of the dead. The entire premise is a metaphor for the isolation and retraction from friends to engage in an "electronic social life." While it's not a bad message, it just seems a few years late, though it might have been right on target in Japan.

The storyline grows increasingly confusing as the interweaving stories of two main characters (a girl who works at a garden shop and a college student) converge, while their friends disappear with subplots about them. However, the plot almost feels incidental compared to the atmosphere that Kurasawa (Kiyoshi, not Akira) creates for his film. Many of the scenes are shot so dark that I found it impossible to watch "Kairo" with the lights on and still make out what was taking place. Forced into darkness, the film advanced from the novel to the terrifying as it progressed. There were two minor scenes that were forever burned into my memory (skip this section if you are worried about perceiving them as "spoilers"):

1. Early on, we see a ghost approach a friend of the first victim while he explores the deceased's apartment. What's unnerving about the scene is her walk - she seems to collapse upon herself as she approaches. It's positively surreal. It looks like practical string-work to me, a simple effect, but effective as hell. If you're not at all interested in the film, I would at least check out the effect here (cue the video to five minutes). Watching it will also give you a taste of the film's score. It's one of the best pieces of music I've heard for a horror flick (it would put you on edge even if you were listening to it out of context). Kurosawa loves to drop the soundtrack out completely at moments of great tension, adding to the anticipation of a great scare.

2. A ghost, whose face and body are blurred like an embarrassed drug dealer on an episode of "COPS," slowly approaches the camera/screen (taking almost a minute to do so). The film is dead silent and there isn't a single cutaway as he nears. I've always found shots like this in horror films scary because you want the split-second relief a cut to a character shot provides. The absence of such editing builds incredible tension (think Laura Dern's run towards the camera in "Inland Empire"). When the face of the ghost seems as if it's about to bump into the camera, it snaps into focus with incredible clarity, creating the optical illusion that it's actually pushing out at you from the screen.

At that moment in my viewing of the film, my power shut off. I'm embarrassed to admit that I legitimately screamed at this point. Then a strange, green orb of lightning slowly expanded and contracted in the sky outside my window(this was the night of the ice/snow storm that raped Kentuckiana royally). I stood and approached the window in awe as the green light faded, recalling the time my friend Robert had seen the phenomenon and I scoffed at his description. As the notion of Robert possibly pulling some elaborate prank in the afterlife entered my mind ("Kairo" also happens to be a DVD I acquired from his apartment after he died), the power snapped back on. Sometimes coincidences and timing in life like that are just fucking freaky.

I tried to rewatch that scene a moment ago and couldn't get through it. After all the horror films I've seen over the years, it stands as one of the best "shit scared out of me" shocks I've ever had. Story and pacing flaws aside, it deserves my recommendation just for that.

Watch the Trailer

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