Sleep is a sneak preview of death in satisfyingly edgy J-horror entry “Nightmare Detective” from Japanese indie helmer Shinya Tsukamoto. An inspiration to the Nipponese mainstream, helmer could see his 10th feature ride the current Western fad for Asian horror. Some Tsukamoto cultists may find the pic overly orthodox, but the titular, suicidal hero may be too reluctant a participant for Western tastes. Regardless, the pic’s remake potential remains high if its bleak content is diluted.
Film begins with the cloaked Kyoichi Kagenuma (Ryuhei Matsuda) visiting the recurring dream of a comatose but otherwise well-to-do salaryman. Opening reel reveals Kagenuma’s ability to analyze dreams, move between the real and REM worlds and hear, whether he wants to or not, the thoughts of other human beings. Decidedly suicidal, Kagenuma sees his gift as a curse.
Detective Keiko Kirishima (Japanese pop singer Hitomi in her thesping debut) is a determined young woman whose interest in detective work has inspired a downward career switch from academic criminology to homicide fieldwork. When a spate of suicide cases occur involving victims slashing themselves with razors in their sleep, Kirishima is ordered by her superiors to take a parapsychological approach. The link between the somnambulistic suicides is that they all have called the same mobile phone number immediately before their self-inflicted deaths. Through a police colleague, Kirishima learns of Kagenuma’s unusual talents and attempts to enlist his assistancebut Kagenuma turns her down. To force Kagenuma’s hand, Kirishima calls the killer’s number herself, putting her own life in jeopardy, so that they can, if need be, both face death together.
With the narrative moving inside each protag’s subconscious mind, the pic begins to resemble a particularly bloody and disturbing episode of “The X-Files.”
First establishing his credentials with the mind-blowing “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” more than 15 years ago, Tsukamoto remains a true hands-on indie filmmaker. Some aspects of Tsukamoto’s script fail to convince upon close examination, but his talent for creating and more importantly, maintaining, a frightening mood never falters.
His idiosyncratic style, recalling David Lynch at his most perverse, is visceral. In a film peppered with disturbing imagery, the CGI effect used when Kagenuma psychically distorts the faces of those who upset him is particularly haunting and repulsive. Helmer also creates unnerving effects with simple hand-held camera work.
While popster Hitomi has obvious thesping limitations, Tsukamoto makes the most of her ethereal qualities. Sporting a defiant stare, the leggy singer resembles an ultra-intense Sandra Bullock. Her male co-stars all give solid perfs, but Tsukamoto himself is particularly riveting as the killer who murders from within.
Those few remaining tech credits not conducted by Tsukamoto are pro.
Pic is shamelessly set up for a sequel franchise, probably to generate sufficient financial freedom for Tsukamoto to get on with other biz.