Review: ‘Séance’

After exploring some side paths with the more abstract "Charisma" and "Barren Illusion," prolific Japanese helmer Kiyoshi Kurosawa returns to the psycho-horror genre he effectively kick-started with "Cure" almost four years ago. Part psychological drama, part straight thriller, "Seance," made for TV but looking just fine on the bigscreen, will please the cult director's fans and maybe make some more as well. Though not on the tenebrous level of "Cure," it's an entertaining ride.

After exploring some side paths with the more abstract “Charisma” and “Barren Illusion,” prolific Japanese helmer Kiyoshi Kurosawa returns to the psycho-horror genre he effectively kick-started with “Cure” almost four years ago. Part psychological drama, part straight thriller, “Seance,” made for TV but looking just fine on the bigscreen, will please the cult director’s fans and maybe make some more as well. Though not on the tenebrous level of “Cure,” it’s an entertaining ride.

An extra draw for Western auds is that it’s actually based on Mark McShane’s novel “Seance on a Wet Afternoon,” which received very fine treatment in Bryan Forbes’ 1964 pic, starring Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough as a suburban couple who kidnap a child and then arrange for her to be found in order to boost the wife’s standing as a psychic medium.

Kurosawa transfers the action to Japan and changes several details, but the broad span of the plot remains intact. Atmosphere is completely different from Forbes’ claustrophobic movie, shot in B&W and grounded in drab London suburban life out of season.

Shooting in color with cool, often eerie setups that extract a sense of menace from ordinary surroundings, Kurosawa makes the story very much his own, referencing the Japanese psycho-horror genre but holding back from its more outre shocks. There’s also, typically, a slim strain of humor that lightly sends the whole thing up.

Junko (Jun Fubuki) is a professional medium who feels her skills are underappreciated and also feels that there must be more to life than “growing old together and dying”; she’s also started to have visions, which she thinks are harbingers of her death.

Koji (Kurosawa regular Koji Yakusho), a sound engineer, is recording effects tracks on Mount Fuji one day when, unknown to him, a young girl who’s been kidnapped from school escapes her captor and hides in one of Koji’s equipment boxes.

When Koji later finds her unconscious body, he and Junko panic and decide not to report it to the police. Junko, who’s worked with the police on solving crimes before, comes up with the idea of planting clues that will lead to the eventual discovery of the kid. But then things start to go horribly wrong.

By turning the main couple into exploiters, rather than initiators, of the kidnapping, pic shifts the center of the story away from a planned scam into one about a couple thrown into extraordinary circumstances who find themselves rapidly out of their depth.

Second half of the movie adopts a less atmospheric, more ironic tone, with the couple haunted by the girl’s spirit.

Fubuki and Yakusho, previously teamed in “Charisma,” play easily against each other, with the former very good as the ambitious but unfocused wife and the latter in another of his trademark low-key perfs. Tech credits are fine on all levels.

Séance

Japan

Production

A Kansai Telecasting Corp./Twins Japan production. (International sales: Twins Japan, Tokyo.) Produced by Takehiko Tanaka, Yasuyuki Uemura. Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Screenplay, Tetsuya Onishi, Kurosawa, from the novel "Seance on a Wet Afternoon" by Mark McShane.

Crew

Camera (color), Takahide Shibanushi; editor, Junichi Kikuchi; music, Gary Ashiya; sound, Yukio Hokari. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (Kings of the Bs), Aug. 7, 2000. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Koji Yakusho, Jun Fubuki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, Ittoku Kishibe, Kitarou, Hikari Ishida.
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