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Friday, July 16, 2021

Haunted by Guilt in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s ‘Retribution’ [Horrors Elsewhere]

Horrors Elsewhere is a recurring column that spotlights a variety of movies from all around the globe, particularly those not from the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure a scream is understood, always and everywhere.

The genre output of Kiyoshi Kurosawa is best characterized by atmosphere, ambiguity, and most of all, a perpetual sense of dread. His 2006 movie Retribution — or Sakebi, which translates to “scream” — tenders the same qualities of personal benchmarks as well as rethinks conventions of all contemporary Japanese horror. Retribution revolves around a spate of bizarre murders and the troubled detective investigating them, so Kurosawa enthusiasts immediately think of Cure as they watch this slow burn unfold. The presence of a supernatural element evokes unavoidable comparisons to Pulse and the likes of Hideo Nakata’s Ring, but Kurosawa’s maverick sensibilities still shine through even as he walks down a familiar road.

This film opens on a murder in progress; a woman in a red dress is drowned by an unknown man at a Tokyo waterfront. As the police converge on the site later, Detective Noboru Yoshioka (Kōji Yakusho) is alarmed to find his missing coat button near the victim’s body. Another seed of doubt is planted once Yoshioka’s fingerprints match those found at the crime scene. Aggravating his coiling uncertainties is now the ghost of the woman in red (Riona Hazuki), stalking Yoshioka and accusing him of her murder.

Around the same time, a doctor (Ikuji Nakamura) kills his delinquent son out of fear he will become a burden on society; a woman (Kaoru Okunuki) drowns her lover after he leaves his wife and threatens her own selfhood. The first crime touches on a cultural belief in Japan where the group’s needs take precedence over individuality. The second shows the extremes someone will go to to maintain their autonomy and avoid routines like marriage. In either situation, someone’s disruptive existence jeopardizes the other’s harmony. These two additional murders, both distinguished by a similar M.O. and the fact that each victim died after committing minor indiscretions, are evidence of a growing social illness in the area. However, the assailants are not responsible for the woman in red’s death either. As with Pulse and Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On series, the supernatural mythology of Retribution is supported by events parallel to the main story.

The father and mistress are incontrovertibly guilty of killing their loved ones, whereas Yoshioka is purported to be innocent. He denies the shrieking ghost’s repeated accusations before and after her death is settled, and up until a pair of gobsmacking twists, audiences believe him. What they suspected all along is off the mark, though. Wrapping the initial mystery up so early may baffle viewers, but Kurosawa is not revealing his cards too early. On the contrary, he is setting up an entirely new game.

Under the cover of twilight and in view of distant traffic, the film’s jane doe expires in a shallow puddle of saltwater. Her violent death echoes the births of other cinematic onryō, or wrathful spirits, that wreak havoc on the living. While the blame evidently lies elsewhere, the spectre coming to Yoshioka is not a case of mistaken identity. The woman in red haunts him and others for a specific reason; her piercing, aghast scream is a rallying cry for those like her. The lithe and unearthly phantom is thereupon a manifestation of both guilty consciences and willful ignorance.

The people caught up in other supernatural daisy chains are often free of any wrongdoing; their involvement is mere happenstance. Innocence notwithstanding, the onus is on them to set things right and put literal spirits to rest. Retribution amends the routine to better fit its knotty story. Everyone visited by the crimson apparition is culpable for something, whether it be a crime they directly committed, or a moral infraction they had no idea they were at fault for — sometimes both. And unlike other films in the genre, there is no perceptible remedy or escape.

Apart from Yoshioka who is really only looking to clear his own name, the police are apathetic toward the original victim, or “F-18” as she is dubbed in the meantime. The cops put a good amount of emotional distance between F-18 and themselves, and as a result, she is seen more as a task to complete than a push for justice. Their indifference, albeit for different reasons, ties into what summons the foreboding spirit. Using the woman in red as his instrument, Kurosawa criticizes those who turn away from someone else’s personal horror. Of course, it is inconceivable to be completely aware of everyone’s pain, but to a ghost driven by her worst moments and utter agony, logic is moot. Instead, she copes by pursuing anyone who disregarded her upon sight. 

Other filmmakers would rather resolve everything as neatly as possible when telling a ghost story, but Kurosawa stays true to form and offers little, if any tangible closure. Additional questions would have inevitably come up had the director included the alternate ending. In its current form, though, the movie is a probing study of the human mind’s darkest corners. The writing is intellectual; conversations dig deep and expose subtext without sacrificing art. So much of the film’s aesthetic says more about the characters and themes than words could. From the emphasis on Tokyo’s drab industrial spaces as opposed to the city’s more attractive sights, to the general instability of physical structures and interpersonal relationships, Kurosawa leaves no stone unturned when exercising his exploration of social troubles, psychological unrest, and crushing guilt.

At first, Retribution comes across as Kiyoshi Kurosawa haunting his own opus. He pinches ingredients from his most renowned films; the frustrated detective on the trail of a killer, and the unfathomable spirits invading the human world. As the last act demonstrates, the movie is more profound and unsettling than its basic pitch ever lets on.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3674032/haunted-guilt-kiyoshi-kurosawas-retribution-horrors-elsewhere/

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