Japanese horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa on his new film Creepy

Director talks about the way new film reflects state of Japanese society, chasing budgets and how he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as simply a horror filmmaker

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2016, 5:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2016, 6:36pm

As one of Japan’s leading filmmakers and a fixture of the international festival circuit – having claimed the best director prize in the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section in 2015 (for his supernatural drama Journey to the Shore ) – horror maestro Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a very famous man. Not that his neighbours would necessarily notice, however.

“Of course we would say ‘Hi’ when we see each other, but we don’t really know much more beyond the names,” says the 61-year-old director. “It’s my guess that my neighbours have no idea who I am and what I do for a living. What we share is the most basic forms of greeting.”

The situation is not unlike what we see in his recent film Creepy, Kurosawa adds with a chuckle. In the psychological thriller, a police inspector-turned criminology lecturer Takakura and his wife Yasuko (played by Hidetoshi Nishijima and Yuko Takeuchi), are intrigued by their eccentric next-door neighbour, Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa), almost as soon as they move into a new suburban house.

Just as the couple go out of their way to make the reclusive Nishino feel welcome, even inviting him and his apparently frightened teenage daughter (Haruna Kawaguchi) over for dinner, Takakura is, separately, also troubled by an unsolved case of a missing family that he is investigating with a former colleague (Masahiro Higashide).

The disintegration of the family units consequently addressed in the story resonates distantly with another of Kurosawa’s most acclaimed works, Tokyo Sonata (2008), which stars Kagawa as a salaryman who loses his job but pretends otherwise in front of his family.

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The director believes that Creepy – or at least the everyday exchanges in its early scenes – reflects the current state of Japanese society. “While everyone is bound to think differently, it’s my view that Japanese people are relatively cold to their neighbours,” he says. “They don’t usually have the urge to become acquainted.

“I don’t know about the situation in Hong Kong but, in Japan, and as you can see in the film, people are accustomed to giving small gifts to their neighbours when they move into a new place. But the relationship pretty much stops after that. It’s possible that they don’t properly meet each other again in the next two years.”

In Creepy, Yasuko would see much more of Nishino after their introduction. In a turn of events that might remind some viewers of Cure (1997) and Pulse (2001), the films that earned Kurosawa a cult following, it all culminates in a nightmarish finale that involves a psychopath, a secret chamber, and some very unusual use of plastic wrap.

While his film’s extreme content and lack of explanation for its more puzzling aspects – with more than a hint of mind control at work here – will strike some as being unrealistic, Kurosawa refuses to put the burden on Yutaka Maekawa’s mystery novel, on which Creepy is based.

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“I believe that we’re dealing with a fantasy world in the movies, and so what happens in them does not always have to be realistic,” the director offers. “For the audiences who may be wondering whether a monster like the one we depict in the film could really exist in reality, know that there have been actual murder cases in Japan which are just as strange.

“In several of them, the motives were completely inexplicable. In others, people who appeared ordinary on the outside also ended up killing entire families of strangers. Even the source material for this film was based on a real case. As these were already happening in real life, I wasn’t too concerned about making sense [of the killer’s motives].”

But this seeming lack of authority over his characters isn’t completely new to Kurosawa. Creepy continues his recent run of literary adaptations (from 2012’s five-part crime mystery Penance , to the 2013 sci-fi drama Real, and last year’s Journey to the Shore) – remarkable for an acknowledged auteur who was very much used to directing from his own original screenplays.

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Kurosawa reveals that it was an easy decision to turn to stories by other authors. “In the past few years, Japanese cinema has become even more commercialised,” he says. “It’s not easy to attract investors for your projects. But if you’re adapting stories that are already well-known, it becomes easier to find the budget.

“In fact, there were difficulties for me to shoot my own stories even in the past; no matter how hard I tried, there was no guarantee that I could find the required money to make a film. That’s why most of my films are adaptations since Penance. There’s no film without money.”

The director confesses – not even half-jokingly – that the claustrophobic setting of Creepy eased his budgetary concerns. “The fact that the protagonist is investigating a case in which the suspect may be living just next door – that helps to limit the story to a very finite area, and it’s a big help for us to control the budget.”

When his projects offer him the requisite creative space, however, Kurosawa has demonstrated that he is not averse to indulging his interests. For his latest film Daguerreotype, a French-language production which premiered at this month’s Toronto International Film Festival, the director has turned to a ghost story he co-scripted to address his recurrent themes of grief, obsession, and the spectre of the past.

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In Kurosawa’s impression, his first production outside Japan represents a vastly different experience from what he’s used to. “The film has its horror elements, but it’s also a love story,” he says. “It’s a completely French production, but since it’s my creation nonetheless, I wouldn’t be surprised if some viewers find echoes of my previous films.”

It’s been occasionally reported that Kurosawa is looking to reduce his horror output, and he admits as much in our interview. “I really like this kind of film,” the director says, laughing, “but people have seen so many horror films from me in the past that they now can’t help but label me a horror filmmaker. They may feel that I’m too good at this genre to be making anything else. I don’t want them to think that.”

Still, Kurosawa’s affection for suspense and mystery stories might be too deep for him to do anything about the situation. “From the era I grew up in, we could only watch movies in cinemas, and not on video like you can now,” he says. “The darkness of cinemas made me anxious. It felt like anything could happen in there; it felt like a mystery unto itself.

“And that feeling often merged with the anxiety I got from watching a film. That may well be the reason I’m so attracted to dark and mysterious ambience.”

Creepy opens on September 22

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