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“Boys’ love,” a genre label applied to manga, anime and films about romance between good-looking guys, is popular in Japan, though it doesn’t get much critical respect.

Once considered niche territory, boys’ love narratives have moved into the mainstream, as evidenced by “The Night Beyond the Tricornered Window,” a horror-mystery distributed by Shochiku and based on the work of manga artist Tomoko Yamashita.

The studio of Yasujiro Ozu and Yoji Yamada, Shochiku makes films for the masses, not core boys’ love fans, who may be disappointed by the film’s relative tameness: The two protagonists — the tall, commanding Rihito Hiyakawa (Masaki Okada) and the willowy, sensitive Kosuke Mikado (Jun Shison) — fit the template, but their relationship never moves past the suggestive stage. Those expecting passionate embraces had better look elsewhere.

The Night Beyond the Tricornered Window (Sankaku Mado no Sotogawa wa Yoru)
Rating
Run Time 102 mins.
Language Japanese

The story that unfolds, though, is one of ghosts and deadly curses that recalls the “Death Note” series, which merged horror and fantasy to massively popular effect. Yukihiro Morigaki, an in-demand director for commercials and music videos with one previous feature credit, delivers stylish, skin-crawling atmospherics with quick cuts that make bloody mayhem look like a fashion ad.

His focus, though, is less shocks than the drama of coming to terms with a troubled past and defeating one’s inner demons. As such, the film works better than might be expected from the opening scenes, which promise a mix of homoeroticism and horror.

As the film begins, we see Kosuke in the midst of a ghostly encounter at a busy intersection as Rihito looks on. After introducing himself, Rihito not only informs the startled Kosuke that he knows about his ability to see the departed, but shows that, by embracing him with a forceful hand and entering a mysterious fluorescent triangle, he can make Kosuke glimpse the tragic pasts of the dead. “You’re my destiny,” Rihito says. “Be my assistant.” Overwhelmed, Kosuke agrees.

Soon after, a shaggy-haired detective named Hiroki Hanzawa (Kenichi Takitoh) hires the pair to investigate a serial killer who committed suicide. Joining supernatural forces, they find a gruesome female corpse the killer assembled from the body parts of his victims. The skeptical detective is impressed.

They encounter a more formidable opponent, however, in Erika Hiura (Yurina Hirate), a high school student who is able to kill instantly by casting a hollow-voiced curse on the victim. They trace her to a metal gate between two buildings, beyond which lies a sort of “savings box” of negative energy, according to Rihito. If she can use it, he reasons, why can’t they? But Kosuke, who has been terrified by spooks since childhood, has no desire to go over to the dark side.

If the film’s excursions into the otherworldly border on the absurd, the backstories of the central characters enter more familiar, dramatic territory, with flashbacks illustrating how their pasts — be it boyhood bullying or being worshipped as a child god by a crazed cult — shaped their present.

The three lead actors resist the temptation to chew the scenery, which, given the material, couldn’t have been easy. Hirate, a former member of pop group Keyakizaka46, is particularly good as Erika, burning with a merciless intensity that is the film’s scariest effect. Which is saying something, if not a lot.

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