I watched this a few nights ago. Normally I try to get reviews out on the same day as I view a film, or at least as soon thereafter as possible, but I’ve been feeling particularly grad-studenty lately and haven’t felt like doing any more writing than is absolutely necessary. So I’ve done none at all, which is a stupid thing to do, but it sure feels good. Briefly. Like eating a pint of ice cream. Great at the time, less great later.
But totally worth it.
Kuroyuri Danchi (“Black Lily Complex,” as in apartment complex) is about teenager Asuka, who has just moved, with her parents and younger brother Satoshi, into the titular apartment building which, of course, has seen better days. But they make their place nice and homey, despite the strange goings-on that naturally start to happen, this being a horror film.
Said goings-on include the neighbor’s alarm clock consistently waking Asuka up at 5:30 AM and ringing incessantly, and… I dunno, other stuff. Asuka goes to give a neighborly “hello” gift to the, ah, neighbors, only it turns out that the neighbors aren’t there. Well, one of them is, only he’s dead.
This is kind of a difficult film to describe, not because it’s particularly complex, but because, as with so many others, it’s mostly a series of vaguely spooky (or at least puzzling) things interspersed with, you know, dialogue. As also often happens, because WORDS, there is something of a twist, one you can see miles off, though thankfully it comes sort of midway through, rather than at the end.
In brief, Asuka comes to believe she’s being haunted by the ghost of her neighbor, an old man who died alone in his apartment; but gradually she learns that this is not the case, and the old man, though definitely ghost-creeping her, is actually a nice guy. The real threat comes from somebody else, and I guess it’s supposed to be a surprise, only it’s obvious almost from the start.
Everybody turns in a solid performance, as is the norm for these studio-driven J-horror films, and the first three-quarters of the movie or so are actually fairly enjoyable, in a low-key, non-challenging kind of way. There’s absolutely nothing new here, but that’s not a bad thing; it’s pleasing to find yourself immersed in a familiar horror environment. If you’ve ever seen Nakata Hideo‘s other horror films that received some play in the West–most notably, of course, Ringu, Ringu 2, and the American The Ring 2, as well as the original Dark Water–there’s a lot you’ll recognize, from the focus on family to the water imagery (here manifest mostly as watery light patterns that announce when something spooky is going down). In some ways it’s nice to be in familiar territory.
But in the final act things do that thing when they look around at the other things and say, “You know what? I’m outta here.” Yeah. That thing.
The final scenes transition rather abruptly from a slow-paced but reasonably engaging supernatural thriller to a Nightmare on Elm Street-style effects-driven horror mess. There are cases where this could work, with a sudden tone shift actually generating real fear. This is not one of those cases, and the final moments, when the big baddie is revealed in his true form, or whatever, unfortunately fall pretty flat. The climactic confrontation with said baddie is actually an anti-climax, and the denouement (college!), with the main character reduced to babbling insanity (also, spoilers!) undermines the earlier parts of the film.
I consider Nakata Hideo to be a generally brilliant director (though to be fair, I’ve only seen four or five of his films). Ringu remains one of my favorite horror films of all time, along with its American counterpart, while Dark Water is another solid, enjoyable ghost story (and its American remake is also pretty good, plus it has Jennifer Connelly and freakin’ John C. Reilly). I say all this because it kills me not to have liked Kuroyuri Danchi. But if you’re wiling to endure a disappointing ending, there really is some good here; in fact, all but the last twenty minutes or so are smooth sailing.
There are some prequel short films that ran on Japanese television prior to the film’s release. I’m a sucker for tie-in media, and sometimes that stuff really can have an impact on the larger narrative (if anybody played Alan Wake, the internet short film prequel Bright Falls is a good example of this). If I can track those down, maybe my feelings about the larger story will change. On its own, though, Kuroyuri Danchi is no Ringu.