A decade or so ago, J-horror (Japanese horror) was a hot genre worldwide. Thinking they had a sure-fire box-office formula — implacable ghosts scaring the bejesus out of attractive women — filmmakers mass-produced sequels, spinoffs and knock-offs, to mostly diminishing returns.
The career of Hideo Nakata, who directed the "Ring" ("Ringu"), the 1998 film that ignited the J-horror boom, exemplifies this bumpy trajectory. After being acclaimed as the "King of J-horror" for "Ring" and other domestic shockers, Nakata went to Hollywood, where he made the indifferently received "The Ring Two" and struggled to get other projects into production. Returning to Japan, he directed commercial thrillers with supernatural elements, as well as "The Complex" ("Kuroyuri Danchi," 2013), a film in his signature J-horror style starring former AKB48 girl group leader Atsuko Maeda. It screened widely abroad, but critical reaction was mixed.
Nakata is now back with "Ghost Theater" ("Gekijorei"), an insinuatingly effective, if hardly innovative, shocker modeled on "Don't Look Up" ("Joyurei"), Nakata's first theatrical film. Released in 1996, "Don't Look Up" had a story about a tyro director filming a WWII drama with two young actresses. But when a ghost appears in the rushes, things start going haywire.