残穢: 住んではいけない部屋 – Zan’e: Sunde wa Ikenai Heya
(“Impurity – The Forbidden Room”)
Japan 2015, Dir. Yoshihiro Nakamura
Yuko Takeuchi – Novelist
Ai Hashimoto – Kubo
Architecture student Kubo (Ai Hashimoto) suspects her new apartment to be haunted and asks a horror novelist (the late Yuko Takeuchi) for help. Together they try to get to the bottom of the hauntings, but soon find out that nightly noises are only the tip of the iceberg.
As it turns out, the building has a bit of a history, as several previous tenants have ended up dead after experiencing similar phenomena. But not only that, the paranormal occurrences are found to even predate the building’s construction. Following lead after lead, Kubo and the novelist slowly trace back the origin of the curse to understand how everything is connected.
Director Yoshihiro Nakamura isn’t exactly knowns for horror, but it’s interesting to see his spin on the genre. The movie is also based on a novel by Fuyumi Ono (Ghost Hunt; Shiki; The Twelve Kingdoms) that’s unfortunately not available in English. I recently managed to acquire the book and will write about the differences in a future update. Anyway the novel origin kind of shows in the way the mystery is slowly unraveled, and the cast of quirky but deep characters. Its title, “Zanne” is somewhat hard to translate and not a common Japanese word, but it means something like “filthy / unclean remains”. Before I move on I feel like I should issue a warning: The Inerasable is the ultimate slow-burn horror. There is a lot, I mean really a lot, of dialogue, and the protagonists rarely face danger themselves. Though there are few ghost appearances, thankfully the effects aren’t too over the top and in line with the overall realistic tone. You could say it’s kind of a lingering creepiness rather than all-out horror, so don’t expect any jump scares.
As for the story, I enjoyed the more “realistic” tone and it reminded me of accounts of paranormal activity you’d hear or read somewhere. I should also mention that due to the complexity of the plot, you really have to pay constant attention or else you’ll be totally lost. It took me several times If you read my summary of the story you might expect a haunted house story similar to Ju-On. But actually the two movies couldn’t be any more different. The closest thing I can think of might be Noroi / The Curse, especially in the way the mystery is slowly unraveled during the investigation. It’s also worth noting that The Inerasable is actually partly presented like a documentary, though thankfully without the shaky-cam visuals. There are interviews with eyewitnesses, residents and other people involved which adds some realism to the story. Most of the haunting scenes are shown through flashbacks as recounted by the interviewee. That combination works pretty well to convey the creepiness of the events. Interestingly, historical events described by the interviewees are presented in a sort of grainy old film-like look. Anyway those sequences help break up the potential monotony of the investigation. There is also something uniquely Japanese about the cast and story, which is deeply rooted in local culture.
That brings me to the most important point. What kept me hooked instead was the cast of characters and the question what’s gonna happen to them. Apart from the two main characters (an interesting combo themselves), there is an ensemble of colorful quirky side characters such as neighbors, caretakers, landladies, journalists etc. who make quick appearances, give interviews, or otherwise get involved in the story. It feels like the actors were given a lot of freedom and they all brim with personality. I also love it how natural the conversations and dialogue are, like actual people interacting. The acting is absolutely top drawer and a joy to behold. I would even say the cast is the main attracting, rather than the mystery or scares. It’s more about the journey than the destination. But that’s not to say the ending wasn’t worth the wait. It’s also worth noting that production value and camerawork are top-notch. If you haven’t guessed from the casting, The Inerasable might be the most high profile Japanese horror production to date. It also performed pretty well at the box office.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t enjoy The Inerasable all that much the first time. It might take several watches to fully appreciate. And don’t go in expecting to get scared out of your wits. But provided that your attention span is long enough, you’re in for an absolute horror-mystery treat. In my opinion one of the most worthwhile contributions to J-horror of the last decade, there is nothing quite like it. If you’re a fan of paranormal mysteries, it’s “uncleanness” will remain with you long after the credits roll.
“Realistic” style; Creepy paranormal mystery; Ensemble cast.
Super slow; Story can be hard to follow.