Injured in the line of duty during an attempt escape by a multiple murderer, former detective and profiler Koichi Takakura (Casshern’s Hidetoshi Nishijima) has left the police force and is now a lecturer in criminal psychology; as a consequence, he and his wife Yasuko (FlashForward’s Yûko Takeuchi) have relocated to Inagi in the west of Tokyo to be closer to the university.
The culture of Japan being one of formality and respect with greetings and interactions, as is the custom, Koichi and Yasuko make moves to meet their new neighbours as soon as they are settled, but are greeted brusquely two doors up by the woman who lives with her elderly mother: “We don’t associate people around here. You start to feel obligated. It’s just a bother.”
Undeterred, they approach the house of their immediate neighbour but there is no response, but later Yasuko tries again and meets Masayuki Nishino (Tormented’s Teruyuki Kagawa), his initially blank confusion at Yasuko’s gift moving to a demanding rudeness as he first accepts the chocolates then defiantly questions her on their quality.
Despite the awkwardness of their first meeting and his lack of social graces, Yasuko becomes more friendly with Mr Nishino who lives with his daughter Mio (Ryôko Fujino) and his wife, bedridden with depression, inviting them over for dinner, but Koichi’s feelings towards him are very different, having been intercepted on the way home by Nishino and told that his wife’s behaviour is unseemly.
Accustomed to the vagaries and extremes of human behaviour, Koichi’s attention is focused elsewhere, having been approached by a former colleague interested in a cold case, the Honda family whose daughter returned from a school trip to find her parents and brother gone, but Koichi is also accustomed to seeking patterns and what he sees begins to disturb him.
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse) from a screenplay by Chihiro Ikeda and Kiyoshi Kurosawa based on the novel by Yutaka Maekawa, the film is deliberately without overt style or atmosphere, almost documentary in its approach to observing events, a veracity which only serves to underline how insufficient Koichi’s reassurance to his wife are that “most dangerous criminals seem super nice to their neighbours.”
The formality of Japanese society reflected in the slow and even pacing of the film, like the title says it is creepy, a slow dread building from what may be coincidences, the odd and unpredictable behaviours of Mr Nishino and their parallels with the recovered memories of Saki Honda (Haruna Kawaguchi), established as an unreliable witness before she has even appeared on screen, the audience keyed to doubt her account of what happened six years before.
With Japanese women almost conditioned to be subservient to men Yasuko defers to the odd demands of Mr Nishino, but Koichi himself is in fact similarly, the intellectual question of whether the patterns he is responding to are significant or random chance overridden by his awareness that this is his next door neighbour, pushing him towards actions which are questionable in his obsession with Nishino and his interrogation of his only witness.
The film about control of self as much as it is about control of others and the barriers between them, characters often shot with gates, fences or tables between them, undeniably it belongs to Kagawa who in Nishino creates a paradox whose lack of social graces may be the result of misfortune but who has somehow produced a charming and well-adjusted daughter, a man whose temper is as changeable as the wind but whose many masks leave those around him wondering which, if any, is the real man?
A film of two halves which hinges on an unprecipitated reveal to leapfrog past a narrative impasse where a stronger build of tension and ambiguity would have been more interesting, Creepy still manages to maintain uncertainty as to the outcome – and live up to its title – right until the final scene.
Having been screened at the London Film Festival, Creepy is released theatrically in the UK and Ireland available on digital download from 25th November