31 Days of Horror: Film #25 RETRIBUTION
Kiyoshi Kurosawa is one of my favorite directors working today (Kiyoshi is not related to Akira Kurosawa, probably my favorite director of all time). Kiyoshi Kurosawa is mainly thought of as a horror director, which is understandable but it doesn’t tell the whole story. He’s worked in many genres, and his drama Tokyo Sonata is considered by many to be his masterpiece. I think that honor belongs to his apocalyptic ghost story Pulse, personally (do not watch the Hollywood remake. It’s awful).
Retribution is not one of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s best films, though it does have many of the ingredients found in his finest work. Released about a year before Tokyo Sonata, Retribution is an unusually crowded and confusing film for Kurosawa. By the end, it doesn’t make as much sense as I would like (and I’ve seen the film three times), and maybe it would’ve been better if it’d been cut down and streamlined a little.
The film is about a detective that finds a woman drowned in a puddle of sea water. At the crime scene the detective finds evidence that he was responsible for the crime. Later a doctor drowns his son in a puddle of sea water, and again the detective finds something from his home was used to commit the crime. Soon the detective is seeing the ghost of a woman in a red dress and remembering things from long ago – things that don’t seem connected, but probably are.
Saying much more would spoil some of the film’s biggest surprises. Overall I like Retribution. It’s a creepy, interesting mystery mixed up with a ghost story. Almost every frame screams that it’s a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film – close-ups are rare, scenes are often done in one extended take, and he lets suggestive atmosphere creates scares instead of violence or jumpy editing. No filmmaker inspires dread the way that Kiyoshi Kurosawa does. If I ever get the chance to make a horror film, this is the man I’m gonna try to emulate.
This film has its issues and they can all be traced back to the crowded and confusing screenplay (written by Kurosawa). It’s largely held together by Kurosawa’s abilities as a director and a great cast led by one of modern Japan’s best actors, Koji Yakusho. Check out Retribution if you enjoy international horror movies and want to see a genre mashup. It’s pretty good and definitely interesting, it’s just not the best that Kiyoshi Kurosawa has to offer.
One unfortunate thing about being a fan of an artist from a different country is that I’ll probably never get to see all of their work. As I write this, Kiyoshi Kurosawa has more than 30 directorial credits, and I believe only 10 of those are available on DVD in the US. Here’s hoping that changes someday. Of the Kurosawa films available in the US, allow me to recommend Pulse, Cure, Séance, Charisma, Doppelganger, and Tokyo Sonata.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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