Commercial constraints are cast aside as “Nightmare Detective 2” seeks to draw auds hooked by the J-horror franchise into the more psychologically disturbing world of Japanese cult director Shinya Tsukamoto. Sequel adheres to the rules established by its hit predecessor, about a reluctant investigator who can enter people’s dreams, but Tsukamoto fearlessly risks triggering the sequel law of diminishing returns by employing the unsettling, primal style of his earlier oeuvre. Horror-themed fests will see this as a must; likewise, loyal cultists will ensure ancillary action in Japanese and Western markets.
Pic begins with Mr. and Mrs. Kagenuma (Ken Mitsuishi and Miwako Ichikawa) having a pleasant dinner with their baby boy, until Mom starts screaming in terror at her young child. The domestic turmoil that ensues is embellished with details such as a procession of ghosts and snapping dogs, and culminates in Mom hanging herself. This opening sequence is eventually revealed to be a recurring dream plaguing the now-grown boy and titular protag, Kyoichi Kagenuma (Ryuhei Matsuda).
As he was in his first outing, the Nightmare Detective is a reluctant helper of others. Accordingly, when teenager Yukie (Yui Miura) comes to Kyoichi’s rundown apartment complaining she’s too frightened to sleep, he couldn’t care less. Yukie’s nightmares stem from a practical joke gone fatally wrong, and act as a harbinger of death to her guilty classmates. Despite his initial indifference, Kyoichi becomes intrigued by Yukie’s dreams, as they share certain elements with his own.
From this point on, pic completely submerges itself in dream logic, as motifs such as water, descending ghosts and faces with contorted right hemispheres repeat, echo and re-emerge for the remainder of the film’s duration. Similarly, dreams finish (or appear to) and begin again, all giving Tsukamoto ample opportunity to get under the viewer’s skin, providing the cinematic equivalent of an Arthur Janov therapy session.
Gore buffs will be disappointed by pic’s near-bloodless approach, and the practical-minded may despair at lack of real resolution. But the psychological impact is difficult to refute, recalling David Lynch at his finest. Special effects are basic but effectively employed CGI; all other tense moments are achieved by shaky camerawork uncomfortably tight closeups, sound effects and precise editing.
Finale pushes Matsuda a smidgen beyond his capabilities, but he is still effective in a minimalist performance. Ichikawa is strong as Kyoichi’s terrorized mother, and Miura is good enough as the sleepless schoolgirl.
HD-to-35mm transfer imbues the film with a brownish tinge that gives it an unpleasantly ethereal look. Other tech credits are pro.