Creepy (Kurîpî: Itsuwari no rinjin)

Japan (2016) Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa

People are strange. But I suppose we are all strange in the eyes of others in one way or another. Then there are those whose foibles and idiosyncrasies are the result of a damaged psyche and become dangerous as a result. We read about them, we just don’t want be living next to them.

Former police detective Koichi Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) move to new home close to Koichi’s new job as a criminal psychology lecturer. They find quite quickly that their neighbours are not very sociable with Yasuko feeling great unease by the erratic actions of Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa) and his daughter Mio (Ryoko Fujino).

Nogami (Masahiro Higashide) an ex-colleague of Koichi asks to help him solve a six-year-old case involving the mysterious disappearance of three members of the Honda family. Only the daughter Saki (Haruna Kawaguchi) was left behind but her memories are vague. Meanwhile, Yasuko and Nishino appear to be getting along at last, but what exactly is Nishino hiding?

Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation) made his name with such psychological horror films as Pulse and Cure during the late 90’s J-Horror boom, before exploring domestic, slice of life dramas in recent outings including Tokyo Sonata and Journey To The Shore. Ostensibly, Creepy falls into the former category but shares the same slow dramatic burn as the latter, as well as continuing the trend of being longer than it needs to be.

This has caused some cheeky wags to suggest the title be changed to “Sleepy” instead but for those of us able to exercise a little patience, the gradual build proves its effectiveness in holding our attention for the duration. Based on the novel by Yutaka Maekawa, Kurosawa is somewhat beholden to an idea he is duty bound to honour and do justice too, as opposed to the esoteric flights of fancy of his own scripts.

After a startling, brutal opening sequence to explain the injury that forced Koichi to quit his police job, the serene and placid world of Japan’s suburbia skilfully does its job in lulling us into a false sense of security. Within moments of the blissful couple settling into their new surroundings, the mood is ruined by a grumpy neighbour’s terse rejection of their presence and no reply at the Nishino house.

Yasuko decides to try the Nishino house again the next day, meeting the baggy eyed, slightly built and awkward man of the house, whose social skills are akin to that of a lobotomised warthog. The next day however, Nishino is suddenly polite, grateful and earnestly amiable towards Yasuko until she asks about his wife and he clams up again.

If the audience is to make up its own psychological profile of Nishino, it would no doubt contain the words “loner”, “shy”, “awkward”, and possibly “bipolar” – all are valid, but the overriding feeling is exactly as the film’s title suggests “creepy”. Curiosity is often humanity’s worst enemy and Yasuko let hers get the better of her in wanting to find out more about Nishino.

Even reaching out to Mio and giving her cooking lessons doesn’t help gain any access into their lives, and like her father, Mio is also prone to running hot and cold on the interaction front. But then one day she drops an almighty bombshell on Koichi which he tries to follow up on, but Mio’s subsequent actions fail to corroborate her statement.

The investigation into the Honda family disappearance is something of a McGuffin yet works as a subplot to give the audience sufficient clues as to where the story might be heading. The pervasive inference is the two situations must be related otherwise why devote so much time to it? Kurosawa is aware of this, playing his cards close to his chest when it comes to the converging of these threads.

Around the 80-minute mark, the truth about Nishino is finally revealed, proving to be as unpleasant as we might dream, or possibly even worse, given the almost surreal nature and insouciant way this is played. But it is not without its flaws, most significantly how this happens right under the police’s noses undetected.

Similarly the choices made by the cast are also designed to baffle the viewer, maybe exposing humans for the weak-minded fools they are, or simply being lazy and contrived writing as befitting the horror/mystery genre. In other words, Nishino is either a master manipulator or everyone he encounters is that one person who opens the door behind which something odd is occurring.

How much stock you want to put into any of these theories will dictate your enjoyment of this film. Credulity and credibility is stretched in equal measures by the actions of the cast and their poor decision making but it remains down to the individual as to whether this is nail biting, gnarly psychological horror of a masterly level, or badly written and illogical tosh.

Being blessed or cursed with an overwhelming sense of ambivalence, I naturally fall in the middle of these two extremes; I can completely appreciate what Kurosawa and Maekawa were hoping to achieve and found it a compelling watch, yet the folly of the characters’ flaws in being sucked into these situation did border on the absurd – even if that was the whole point.

The main cast are uniformly great in their roles, with Teruyuki Kagawa having the misfortune to naturally look decidedly creepy and avoidable, which he plays up to very well. Yuko Takeuchi’s role as Yasuko is more subtle, the significance of her actions likely to be missed as pertains to what drives her.

Kurosawa keeps his direction tight and the presentation low key for maximum effect in literally living up to the title of Creepy. The slow pace won’t appeal to everyone but those who can stick it out while find this to be an engagingly dark – if slightly unfeasible – psychological thriller that slowly gets under your skin.

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