Original title: Akumu Tantei
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Hitomi, Ando Masanobu, Shinya Tsukamoto
Director Shinya Tsukamoto, best known for his wildly original cyberpunk movie Tetsuo the Ironman, has crafted one of the most original and compelling horror movies I have seen in a while.
Starting like a police procedural, a young woman is arranging to commit suicide while talking to a friend on her mobile phone. While she's discussing the details, she is attacked by a largely unseen entity who chases her back to her apartment and murders her. Police think its just a suicide, however Keiko (J-pop star Hitomi) who is working her first case thinks otherwise.
Her suspicions are aroused further when another victim stabs himself to death in his sleep, apparently in the grip of a nightmare. Being the newbie on the team, Hitomi is tasked with following up any 'psychic' leads that may help with the investigation, while the senior members do the real detective work. Soon she learns about the 'Nightmare Detective' (Ryuhei Matsuda) who apparently has the ability to enter people's dreams, and she asks if he can help.
Soon they discover that all the victims have been talking on their mobile phones to the same person called '0' (played by director Shinya Tsukamoto), however their only way of getting to him is within dreams and by Hitomi putting her life on the line.
While the general setup of the movie establishes the storyline and characters in a relatively realistic way, the premise of entering the dreamworld allows the film to blur the line between fantasy and reality to produce some truly surreal moments. Added to the mix are visceral and adrenalised terror scenes filmed in a shaky handheld camera style.
The ending is truly mind-blowing (not to mention mind-fucking) and had me grinning ear to ear as I was reminded yet again why I love Japanese cinema so much.
The cast is small but uniformly excellent, especially Ryuhei Matsuda as the nihilistic Nightmare Detective, who somehow manages to make utter depression seem totally cool. Hitomi surprisingly plays the role of horror heroine to perfection - so much so that I had to double-check that she was indeed one and the same as the popstar.
The result is a truly excellent horror movie with a unique premise, delivered with Shinya Tsukamoto's signature creativity. Fans of real horror movies (ie: ones that try to freak you out as opposed to gross you out or make you die laughing) should search this one out pronto. As an added bonus, Nightmare Detective II will be out soon!
Rating: 9/10 Highly Recommended