Kiyoshi Kurosawa is one of the most distinctive and prolific talents in the J-horror (Japanese horror) field. SÉANCE (KOUREI), a loose remake of the sixties classic SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, is not one of his better films, but it definitely has moments.
SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, based on a novel by Mark McShane, was made, effectively, in 1964 by British director Bryan Forbes. It concerned a psychic woman (Kim Stanley) who concocts a scheme that involves kidnapping a child and then pretending to locate the kid psychically in order to claim the ransom money, but the woman begins receiving disturbing psychic vibes that throw her plans into turmoil.
This heavily retooled 1999 remake, made for Japanese television, was by the talented and idiosyncratic Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira), best known for the brilliant CURE (1997) and the almost-brilliant PULSE (2000). Other films by this unique talent include SWEET HOME (1989), CHARISMA (1999) and BRIGHT FUTURE (2003), many of which feature the renowned actor Koji Yakusho (as does SÉANCE), who the director has dubbed his “alter-ego”.
Junko is a free-lance psychic and her husband Sato is a sound man. They live a “normal” (read: uneventful) lifestyle, at least until Junko begins picking up disturbed psychic vibes surrounding a kidnapping. It seems a little girl has been snatched off a playground by a perv, but has managed to escape into a forest where Sato happens to be recording sound. The girl hides in his equipment box and he unknowingly takes her home with him. In the meantime Junko has been contacted by the girl’s distraught parents, who want her to psychically locate their daughter.
Back home, Sato opens his tool case and finds the girl. Rather than contacting the police, Junko and Sato unwisely decide to place the girl in an old house which Junko will pretend to use her extra-sensory powers to locate. Unfortunately, Sato inadvertently kills the girl before the plan is carried out.
Now the two are really in a fix. They bury the girl and attempt to wash their hands of the whole mess, but the girl’s unquiet spirit isn’t quite ready to let go. Junko and Sato see the girl, or parts of her, everywhere they go. One day Sato confronts a seeming flesh and blood replica of himself and sets it on fire (a professor at the beginning of the film has already explained that when a person sees one’s double it means he or she is about to die). The next morning Junko finds a pacifier left by the girl and, unknown to herself, happens to be clutching it when cops arrive to question the couple about their involvement in the kidnapping, which does little to substantiate Junko Sato’s claim that they have nothing to do with it!
Kiyoshi Kurosawa is one of the most unique directorial talents on the scene and this film is an intriguing showcase for his gifts. It’s one of the few times Kurosawa has turned to an outside source for material (his best films tend to be adapted from his own published novels)—with SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON he was working from a deeply British storyline quite foreign his own quintessentially Japanese worldview. Needless to add, Kurosawa made plenty of changes to the story, such as making the psychic protagonist’s visions concrete (whereas in the original film they were only described). He’s also, as is his practice, added several layers of ambiguity by starting scenes in the middle and/or end, unexpectedly jumping forward in time and leaving out many connecting threads. As anyone who’s seen Kurosawa’s other films well knows, ambiguity is his stock in trade: perhaps no other contemporary filmmaker utilizes it as effectively.
But does Kurosawa’s approach work? Not quite. Certainly he’s concocted an intriguing piece of work with a vivid (perhaps too vivid) atmosphere of brooding, near-hallucinatory creepiness, but too much of it is derivative, at least to those viewers like myself who are familiar with J-horror films, which invariably feature ghostly visitations involving pasty women with long dark hair. SÉANCE has more than its share of that very element, meaning it may work for some viewers, but those who’ve seen RINGU, JU-ON, DARK WATER, et al are in for a mildly effective but underwhelming ride through an overly familiar landscape.
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Producers: Takehiko Tanaka, Yasuyuki Uemura
Screenplay: Tetsuya Onishi, Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Cinematography: Takahide Shibanushi
Editing: Junichi Kikuchi
Cast: Koji Yakusho, Jun Fubuki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, Kitarou, Ittoku Kishibe, Ren Osugi, Sho Aikawa, Daikai Shimizu