The Complex (2013): Hideo Nakata Swedish Inspiration

Hiroki Narimiya, Atsuko Maeda in The Complex
Fans of J-Horror and Hideo Nakata will enjoy his 2013 film The Complex aka Kuroyuri danchi. While this offering is not on par with his 1998 film Ring, or the 2002 feature Dark Water, it was influenced, apparently, by the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In. It also seems to have taken a bit from the 2005 thriller Hide and Seek although it has no imaginary friend there are elements of that film’s plot in this low-key J-Horror. The film is one of those plot changing films that the Japanese do so well in the genre of horror.

The Complex starts off as a low-key disturbing look at the new neighbors.

Asuka (Atsuko Maeda) has moved into a new complex with her parents and little brother. She can hear noises from the flat next door and when she suggests complaining her mother tells her that they have only just moved in. The film starts with a happy families feel. Mom in the kitchen, Dad setting up the family TV and little brother Satoshi messing about. The opening sequence does not feel right, the light is too bright, the parents seem a bit off and the singing bird appears to be on a computerized loop.

As unpacking continues, Asuka’s mother asks her to take cakes around to the new neighbors. The girl takes the package next door and while she never sees the inhabitant, the cakes are taken. Later she will hear scratching noises from the apartment next door and an alarm that goes off at half five in the morning.

Asuka also meets a little boy named Minoru whom she plays with. At her nursing school, she learns that her apartment complex has a reputation for being haunted. As she settles in, Asuka finds the next door neighbor’s body and she believes the old man is now haunting her.

She is right, the old man’s spirit has attached itself to her but not for the reason she believes. The ghost is trying to warn her. A cleaning worker, Sasahara (played by Azumi actor Hiroki Narimiya) tries to help Asuka which results in horrific consequences for all concerned.

The movie takes a couple of twists and turns that may seem confusing at first. But like many good J-Horror films, repeated viewings, or just going over the events afterward make the whole thing much clearer. Asuka is desperately lonely and full of guilt from a childhood incident that resulted in the death of her family. The young woman has issues and her moving to the complex has set her up for a fall.

Nakata’s feature feels like a hodgepodge of several different films, the aforementioned movies most surely and it borrows somewhat from the 2001 J-Horror Shadow of the Wraith, aka Ikisudama, just without the teen element and hokey music. This film’s “villain” though is a small “cute kid” ghost that turns out to be quite nasty.

In reality this is pretty standard fare. Nothing like Hideo’s earlier work. (Admittedly it is hard to trump films like Ring, Ring 2, Dark Water and the thought provoking 2010 film Chatroom.) Shot digitally, the film looks good, although the CG in some instances does not hold up to close scrutiny. The shot of the apartment wall changing is clearly computer generated and takes away from the moment.

All the actors do a more than capable job with their various roles. Kudos to Atsuko Maeda who brings Asuka to life. At the end of the film we believe completely in her character and her ending. Hideo Nakata has lost none of his deft touch with horror. This film is enjoyable and there are some real hair raising moments (although not for too long and none that are overly memorable) and bits that will make the viewer think.

The Complex, apparently was made into a television show with Atsuko Maeda (who appears in episode 1.12) titled The Complex: Prologue, This Hideo Nakata offering is a solid 4 out of 5 stars. Those who hate subtitles will want to give this one a miss.

The Echo (2008): Grudge-like Terror

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I’ve just fallen in love. Not with someone, but something; the film The Echo. Amazingly it is a re-make (not, if you’ve read many of my posts or seen my YouTube channel something I am too fond of) of a Filipino film titled Sigaw (second side note – which I am currently desperately searching for) which translates as Scream or Shout.

Directed by Yam Laranas and starring Jesse Bradford, Amelia WarnerKevin Durand , and Carlos Leon The Echo lives up to it’s billing on the cover. It boast’s that the film has been made by the producers of The Grudge and The Ring. The influence of both films is very evident in this spine tingling (yes, I know cliche time but damn it fits) and scary movie.

Ex-con Bobby (Bradford) has been released from prison, he was in for involuntary man-slaughter, and is on parole. He moves into his dead mother’s apartment and gets a job working for Hector Rodriguez (Leon) as a mechanic. He hunts down his ex-girlfriend Alyssa (Warner) and they attempt to restart their earlier romance.

Meanwhile, Bobby’s neighbour, a cop (Durand) is noisy and appears to be beating his wife and daughter. And there are some strange things going on in his dead mother’s flat, not to mention some really odd noises.

This is a cracking film very much in the land of The Grudge and The Ring. It was well paced and the reveal/twist was genuinely surprising and satisfying.

"From the producers who brought you..."
“From the producers who brought you…”

The performances were spot on and I was pleased to see Bradford again as the last thing I’ve seen him in was the 2002 film Swimfan.  His wounded countenance and perplexed disposition went a long way to convincing me that his character was someone who’d always toed the line until the manslaughter incident.

Warner was brilliant as his ex-girlfriend who initially does not want to start over with Bobby and then changes her mind.

I also loved Durand in this film. The first thing I ever saw him in was the 2007 film Wildhogs and he was incredibly funny as the half-witted biker thug. In this film, he is evil, tragic, and scary.

Durand. Did I also mention creepy?
Durand. Did I also mention creepy?

This film delivered the scares in spades and almost creeped me out so much that I wanted to leave the lights on when I went to bed. Not to mention that every little (or not so little) noise had me jumping and jerking like I had an electric lead attached to my body.

SPOILER TERRITORY IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM, DO NOT READ THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH!

The ending of the film was also brilliant. While waiting for the ambulance to arrive (along with the police) we know that Bobby is screwed. Despite the fact that he has managed to save (we hope) his girlfriend, he’s broken his parole so it’s back into the “Big House” for him. Somewhat of a downer after the brilliant twist just before in the film.

OKAY, SPOILER ALERT OVER, READ ON…

loved this film and because of that, I’m giving it a full 5 star rating. It took the lessons learned from The  Grudge and The Ring and it did not blatantly copy either film. There was no “jerky” movements from anyone and no, “A-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-h,” noises either.

So, have you seen this film? What did you think about it? How about the original Filipino film? And on that note, if anyone has any idea where to find this film (the original) please, for the love of God, let me know?

The Echo 2004 aka Sigaw, anyone know of a subtitled copy, anyone??
The Echo 2004 aka Sigaw, anyone know of a subtitled copy, anyone??

Takashi Shimizu: A Director With a Grudge

Takashi Shimizu

Takashi Shimizu is one talented guy. Not only is he a writer and director, but he is also a producer. Shimizu wears all three hats easily. His first foray into the world of cinematic horror was a short two part project to go into a film being produced by a friend. These two shorts were later incorporated into his first ‘proper’ film.

Takashi Shimizu was able to produce his first horror feature because of the popularity of his two short segments in his friends film. With a tiny budget, Shimizu’s first proper film was a “straight to video” called Juon The Curse and Juon The Curse II. Despite the lack of budget and the minimalist approach to special effects, word of mouth soon turned both these films into popular films with audiences in Japan.

With Hideo Nakata‘s The Ring (Ringu) gaining world-wide fan-dom and pretty much starting the J-Horror phenomenon, the popularity of Ringu gave Shimizu the “green-light” to start filming the first of many versions of Ju-on The Grudge.

Ju-on The Grudge is basically Ju-on The Curse with a bigger budget. With the extra money, Shimizu was able to expand the story and increase the expenditure for special effects. He also used the “ghost woman” aka “the grudge girl” who he had first used in the video versions of the film. Takako Fuji has the distinction of being the ‘Grudge Girl’ in all of the Ju-on films until Grudge 3. By the time that Hollywood had taken the reins from Shimizu after the re-make of Grudge 2, they no longer needed the original ghost.

Ju-on: The Grudge 2

*sidenote* Don’t bother watching The Grudge 3, it is execrable.

That Shimizu was able to keep coming back to the “Grudge well” repeatedly is pretty amazing. Especially considering  that right up until The Grudge 2 (Japanese) and the two American re-makes he was able to keep ‘tweaking’ the scare formula and increased the reach of the Ghost each time he re-invented it.

The selling point of all the grudge films is the fact that you don’t have to enter the house or to interact with the ghost to have it come get you. No, the curse or grudge can come calling if you just know someone who has been in the house. Pretty powerful and super scary.

My daughter and I have seen every version of the Grudge films. We have also set through several “making of’s” and listened to several cast and crew commentaries as well.

The first thing you discover is that the man who is responsible for helping to keep J-Horror on the map, loves to laugh and loves to play practical jokes. He is also the one who does the A-h-h-h-h-h-h-h sound that comes from the ghost. We also found out how much trouble he had with the studio brass when they asked him to direct the two re-makes.

Takashi Shimizu had his work cut our for him on both of the American re-makes. The Hollywood producers could not understand why he did not explain the origins of the ghost and a way to defeat it. In their parlance a ghost film had to have a beginning, a  middle and an end. It also had to give the lead protagonist a way to defeat the ghost. They also felt the audience would not be able to follow the film if there was no explanation.

Never mind that the original Grudge films had a rabid international fan-base despite having none of the requisite’s listed by the Hollywood brass. They had gone to the trouble of getting the original director to helm their Hollywood versions and they wanted him to film it their way, damnit.

Shimizu stuck to his guns though and made brilliant remakes of his classic Ju-on series. Ultimately though. he grew tired of the on going battle with the Hollywood execs. That is why on the execrable Grudge 3 (can you tell I didn’t like it?) his name is on the project as being the writer of the original series.

Shimizu has moved on from the Grudge world and continues to make scary films for the J-Horror devotees. He has lost none of his creativity or his humour. His next film, 7500  is due out later this year and Scared of the Dark is currently in preproduction now.