Film / Reviews

‘Bamy’: Slightly barmy but spooky as hell

by Mark Schilling

Contributing Writer

Cinematic surrealism has a long pedigree, going back to such early outrages as Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s “Un Chien Andalou” (1929) and “L’Age d’Or” (1930), whose arresting images (the razor slashing a woman’s eyeball in the former being the most notorious) and abandonment of reality created an enduring template. Among the latest to use it, consciously or not, is director Jun Tanaka in “Bamy,” a first feature that screened in competition at last year’s Torino Film Festival.

The film begins as the latest J-horror, with a big debt to genre master Kiyoshi Kurosawa. But Tanaka, who also wrote the script, is not after standard genre shocks. His ghosts are shadowy presences, not jack-in-the-box frights. And they respond to sounds and even to physical force, unlike the ethereal spooks of most films, J-horror or otherwise.

Bamy
Rating
Run Time 100 min
Language JAPANESE

What are they exactly? Projections of fears? Symbols of alienation? “Bamy” is short on explanations, conventional plotting and what might be called metaphorical coherence. In its final act it abandons logic entirely, save for the poetic sort. But its images, particularly a red umbrella that takes on a life of its own, are eye-catching and suggestive, if not transgressive in the Bunuel/Dali tradition. That is, they will not cause theaters to empty. Unquiet dreams are another matter, however.

The film jumps right in with the queasy atmospherics: As a young woman, Fumiko (Hiromi Nakazato), rides down on a glassed-in elevator in the municipal library where she works, the aforementioned umbrella drifts behind her, like a slowly falling body. Exiting, she notices the umbrella hit the ground and, nearby, a pale-looking guy in a hoodie. He is Ryota (Hironobu Yukinaga), a former fellow member of her university photography club.

Flash forward a year. Fumiko and Ryota are madly in love and engaged to be married. But when Ryota moves into Fumiko’s place, he spies a black figure in the gloom, as eerie music hums. Similar spooky encounters occur at the warehouse where he works and again in the apartment. Finally, after a disturbing public incident that nearly causes Fumiko to cancel their wedding, Ryota confesses that he sees ghosts — and always has.

His relationship on the rocks, Ryota meets a woman, Sae (Misaki Tsuge), who has recently acquired the ghost-spotting ability — and is frightened out of her wits. He shows her that the ectoplasmic enemy can be thwarted — with a hammer in one case, with tossed rocks in another — and they begin to bond.

This may sound comic, but the film’s tone is ominous, with dread permeating every scene. Eiichi Terada’s score, which ranges from unsettling thrums to dramatic orchestral swells, doubles the creep factor. Also, colors switch back and forth between the naturalistic and the brownish desaturated, a signal for otherworldly strangeness. And that red umbrella keeps reappearing, as a constant reminder that powers are afoot that defy rationalization.

These stylistics serve to make the film look more polished than its zero budget would typically allow. They are anchored by Yukinaga’s solid, if stolid, performance as the agonized Ryota, who is not only constantly pursued by ghosts, but seems, with his heavy features and perpetually haunted eyes, near to joining them. What he has done to deserve this torture is never specified. He was born to it — “Bamy’s” biggest scare.