In a Hollywood that is increasingly obsessed with superhero blockbusters, the place to see many acclaimed filmmakers these days is on the small screen. In Japan, though, the Wowow entertainment channel has been producing original dramas by local auteurs for some time.
One such auteur is Kiyoshi Kurosawa, whose five-part sci-fi series on Wowow has been edited into a theatrical film titled “Yocho ‘Foreboding.'” It’s a companion piece to Kurosawa’s “Before We Vanish,”which was released in September. Both are based on a play by Tomohiro Maekawa about an unusual alien invasion.
Instead of recycling the earlier film, “Yocho” is quite different in story and tone. In contrast to the opening scenes of “Before We Vanish” with Masami Nagasawa’s prickly wife comically raging at Ryuhei Matsuda’s fuzzy-minded hubby, “Yocho” is darker and scarier from beginning to end. It also has a better villain in Masahiro Higashide’s Dr. Makabe, who is physically intimidating and completely ruthless.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||140 mins|
The heroine is Etsuko (the single-named Kaho), a factory worker who senses early on that something is amiss when her friend and colleague Miyuki tells her a ghost is haunting her house. The “ghost” turns out to be Miyuki’s father and, when a worried Etsuko takes Miyuki to the hospital, the doctor delivers an unsettling diagnosis: She no longer understands the concept of “family.”
Meanwhile, Etsuko’s husband, Tatsuo (Shota Sometani), who works at the hospital as a custodian, encounters Makabe, a new doctor with an uncanny air. He is an alien who has taken over a human host and is now looking for a “guide” to help him understand humankind in preparation for an alien invasion. The cowering Tatsuo becomes that guide, helping Makabe strip his victims of their concepts of past, future, fear and even life itself, leaving them less human — or dead.
When Etsuko learns the truth about Makabe and Tatsuo she is horrified, but when Makabe tries to pick her brain — or rather destroy her soul — she foils him without even trying.
Those expecting an alien invasion flick with eye-popping CG will be disappointed: When Makabe messes with someone’s mind he simply extends an index finger to his victim’s forehead, though he can also make humans dramatically collapse just by walking past them, like a Grim Reaper in a white lab coat.
The film gets many of its scares with the same mundane materials that have long been a Kurosawa trademark — a mysterious rumble here, a spooky rustling curtain there — but the most frightening element by far is Higashide. This former male model has been expanding his range since playing the lead as a schoolyard fighter in Toshiaki Toyoda’s 2014 film “Crows Explode.” In “Yocho” his stiff, purposeful movements, dead eyes and contemptuous grin will send chills down your spine, but they never shade over to the cartoonish.
Meanwhile, Kaho’s Etsuko reminded me of Shelly Duvall’s Wendy in “The Shining.” She’s frightened out of her wits but surprisingly resourceful. Etsuko, however, possesses a kind of super-power (or perhaps genetic quirk?) that Wendy lacked. Where does it come from? And how can it fend off an alien invasion? “Yocho: Season 2” (which has yet to be made) could have the answers.