Have you ever walked down a corridor or into a room in the dead of night with your heart beating and your skin crawling? Something spooks you, for reasons that — in the clear light of day — seem to have to nothing to do with the real world. Or do they?
Real estate agents do not commonly proclaim that a property has recently been the site of a suicide, murder or undiscovered death, especially after a renovation that leaves no trace of the previous inhabitant. Such places give off bad vibes, and not only to the superstitious. The reality of their business means that discretion is advised.
This is the setting of “The Inerasable” (“Zan’e: Sunde wa Ikenai Heya”), Yoshihiro Nakamura’s engrossing, skin-crawling adaptation of Fuyumi Ono’s best-selling horror novel. In the film, college student Kubo (Ai Hashimoto) hears strange sounds in her apartment’s tatami room and describes them to a horror novelist (Yuko Takeuchi) who has asked readers to send her stories of their scary experiences.
When Kubo writes again to say she has glimpsed an obi (kimono sash) being dragged across the tatami, the novelist — who is known only as Watashi (I) — recalls that she received a similar letter from another resident in the same apartment building. A coincidence? The novelist, being a novelist, imagines a woman in kimono hanging herself and her obi sweeping the floor as her body swings back and forth.
Then Kubo discovers that an earlier building resident committed suicide after moving to a different apartment. Is there a connection between his death and what she has been hearing and seeing? Kubo and the novelist, who is now fascinated by the case and more than a little creeped out, begin investigating.
A simple-enough setup, but as the story wends its labyrinthine way through the murky past, it extends far beyond the earnest Kubo and the nerdy novelist. Along the way, the two women acquire sources and allies. They also discover a curse that reaches across time and distance to seek out fresh victims.
Nakamura, who got his professional start as a scriptwriter and director of horror films, returns to the genre after a decade’s absence. In contrast to the snappy pace of “Booth” (“Zettai Kyofu Busu”), his 2005 shocker about a midnight radio DJ who finds himself talking to a revenge-bent ghost in a haunted broadcasting booth, “The Inerasable” builds slowly as its investigators sift through old land records, interview witnesses and uncover long-hidden — or unsuspected — connections.
This sort of multilayered storytelling can also be seen in Nakamura’s best film to date, “Fish Story” (2009), in which he stunningly tied five plot threads together to show how a proto-punk song saves the world. “The Inerasable,” however, is more reminiscent of a ghost-hunter reality show — though more deliberately crafted than the genre norm — with the spooky plot reveals used more to build atmosphere than jolt the audience.
After seeing so many slam-bang, reveal-all endings in Nakamura’s films, I was expecting something similar in “The Inerasable” and was not totally disappointed. But I wasn’t as surprised as I was in 2001, when Kiyoshi Kurosawa, in “Pulse”(“Kairo”), redefined the genre with ghosts that do not pop out of nowhere but crawl with sinuous menace toward terror-struck victims.
Like Kurosawa, Nakamura uses no jack-in-the-box scares; instead, he calls up an implacable malevolence born of injustice long forgotten but never forgiven. And to attract its fatal attention, you only have to be in the wrong place at the wrong time — even if it’s the place you call home.
In “The Inerasable” the dead have left a presence that, like an ancient stain, cannot be wiped away. A presence that forces itself on our attention — that not only haunts, but pursues. Call it “The Inescapable.”