Berlin Film Review: ‘Foreboding’

Overlong and irregularly paced, this thin oddity is a trial even for fans of Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa's brand of cult horror.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Kaho, Shota Sometani, Masahiro Higashide (Japanese dialogue)

2 hours 20 minutes

Official Site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_K0FlbkfBJU

For anyone whose experiences with the last few films from Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa have proven frustrating (and his recent run of form suggests the heady horror days of “Cure” and “Pulse” are long gone), the English title of his latest project may sound rather appropriate. And you’d do well to be wary: “Foreboding” plays like an unwieldy summary of Kurosawa’s gloomy thematic preoccupations and his worst formal tendencies: It’s overlong and lacking focus, and the underwater pacing and dissociative, somnolent acting style make it hard to invest in the human characters even before they’ve been partially zombified.

Condensed erratically, and not nearly enough, into a 140-minute film from a five-part TV show, “Foreboding” has already had a Japanese release, and is based, confusingly, on the play “Before We Vanish,” which was also the title and the source material of Kurosawa’s last film. It’s hard to see what so attracted Kurosawa that he’d want to shoot it twice: While the current movie does boast intermittent sequences that are fun or at least visually inspired, they’re packed among so much wadding that the effect is entirely undercut. Indeed, Kurosawa’s conception of this unlovely world and the humorless, rudderless creatures who inhabit it is such that the intergalactic invasion it listlessly imagines is less chilling than simply baffling: Why would the aliens even bother?

Akiko Ashizawa’s grayish photography, under a burbling score from Yusuke Hayashi that only later develops its full-on monster-movie motifs, introduces Etsuko (Kaho, of “Our Little Sister”). She’s worried on two fronts: A friend at work has suddenly developed an irrational, blinding fear of her own father, and Estuko’s nursing-orderly husband Tetsuo (Sometani Shota, “Lesson of the Evil”) has taken to staring vaguely into the middle distance. With glacial slowness, a flashback or two and a lot of scenes of Etsuko waiting in hospital corridors and overhearing things through hastily pulled curtains, these two conditions are revealed to be related.

Her friend has been visited by Dr. Makabe (Higashide Masahiro, much better than he should be given that he’s apparently been directed to move no part of his face, ever). Makabe is actually an alien in disguise and, like all aliens, he apparently lives for a good probing: Here, however, he uses his finger, pressed hard into the victim’s forehead, to remove “concepts” fundamental to the human experience. The friend’s concept of “father” had thus been removed, and hence her panic at the sudden stranger in her house.

Worse still for Etsuko, Makabe, like an alien Dracula, has recruited Tetsuo as sort of Renfield, and unless the earthling abets his increasingly sordid plans by bringing him fresh victims, Makabe causes him crippling pain. This, and not the imminent end of humanity, becomes Etsuko’s main focus when she discovers herself immune to the alien’s influence. She’s eventually recruited by the authorities to try to communicate with the invaders, like an irritatingly passive version of Amy Adams’ character in “Arrival.”

What’s especially aggravating about “Foreboding” is that it’s by no means short on ideas, and every now and then, a scene such as that of Makabe strolling through the crowded hospital and everyone falling into a dead swoon where they stand, points to the creepy, clever film or six that exists within this one. Yet however striking particular moments may be, the transitions grate. Too many things happen and too little thought has gone into what any one of them could mean. The film never even capitalizes on the idea of robbing individuals of particular concepts, a fertile conceit that might have been used to prise open character psychology or, better still, investigate general human nature.

But “Foreboding,” for all its sci-fi high-concepting, suffers from a terminal lack of scale. This is a hermetically sealed urban Japan in which an interplanetary invasion culminates in a three-way standoff in an abandoned warehouse, before a climactic pulley-related coup de grace that couldn’t be more cartoonish if it were delivered via ACME anvil. Instead of breadth, we simply get length, interminable and unevenly paced length. The “foreboding” that Estuko says she feels at the outset is clearly about the coming Apocalypse, but the greater sense of doom one feels in watching Kurosawa’s film is that it, unlike the world, might never end.

Berlin Film Review: 'Foreboding'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival — Panorama, Jan. 27, 2018. Running Time: 140 MIN. (Original Title: "Yocho")

Production: (Japan) A WoWow Cinema release (in Japan) of a WoWow production. (International Sales: WoWow, Tokyo.) Producers: Takehiko Aoki, Tomomi Takashima, Yumi Arakawa, Nobuhiro Iizuka. Executive Producers: Eiji Omura, Yosuke Miyake.

Crew: Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Screenplay: Hiroshi Takahashi, Kurosawa based on the play "Before We Vanish" (Sanpo sure shinryakusha) by Maekawa Tomohiro. Camera (color): Akiko Ashizawa. Editor: Koichi Takahashi. Music: Yusuke Hayashi.

With: Kaho, Shota Sometani, Masahiro Higashide (Japanese dialogue)

More Film

  • A Faithful Man

    Film Review: 'A Faithful Man'

    French actor Louis Garrel has been married twice, first to Iranian talent Golshifteh Farahani, and now to model-cum-actress Laetitia Casta. He has also directed two features, the first a free-wheeling love-triangle comedy called “Two Friends” in which Garrel plays the cad who comes between his best friend and the object of his obsession (played by [...]

  • LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With

    LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With Documentary About Gay Porn Shops Circus of Books

    Granted, the red carpet at the opening night of Outfest in DTLA may not have been the most star-studded but it was without a doubt the most diverse, inclusive and, yes, fabulous. “I’ve never been here before,” admitted “RuPaul’s Drag Race” vet Trixie Mattel, who stars in the documentary “Moving Parts.” “It’s supposed to be [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Russ Tamblyn's Career Had Legs After Childhood

    With an acting career that spans work for Cecil B. DeMille and Joseph Losey to Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch, Russ Tamblyn’s creativity and longevity is proof that there’s life after child stardom. In Tamblyn’s case, there’s also been a bounty of juicy film and TV roles long after his legendary legs no longer kicked [...]

  • Olivia Wilde Booksmart Director

    Film News Roundup: Olivia Wilde to Direct Holiday Comedy for Universal

    In today’s film news roundup, Olivia Wilde has landed another directing gig following “Booksmart” and revenge thriller “Seaside” and “Woodstock: The Directors Cut” get August release dates. PROJECT LAUNCH Olivia Wilde will direct and produce an untitled holiday comedy project for Universal Pictures with her “Booksmart” partner Katie Silberman. Universal outbid five other studios for [...]

  • Choas Charles Mansion and the CIA

    Amazon Studios Takes Film Rights to Manson-Centered Drama 'Chaos' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the grisly murders executed by the followers of Charles Manson, Amazon Studios has optioned film rights to a nonfiction title about a journalist who spent decades obsessively following the case. The studio will adapt “Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties,” from [...]

  • Sword of Trust

    Marc Maron on 'Sword of Trust,' Lynn Shelton and Conspiracy Theories

    Marc Maron has interviewed everyone from Bruce Springsteen to President Obama, so he’s probably learned a few things about being a good interview. Of course, as he points out, he generally has over an hour to talk leisurely speak with his guests in his home and draw out stories beyond the public narrative; it’s a [...]

  • Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The

    Andrew Lincoln's ‘Walking Dead’ Movies to Be Released Only in Theaters

    The first planned movie centered on “The Walking Dead” character Rick Grimes will now run in theaters rather than on AMC. The announcement was made with a brief teaser video played at San Diego Comic-Con on Friday, with the video ending with the words “Only in Theaters.” The film will be distributed by Universal Pictures. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content