Some SPOILERS here.
Creepy is probably my favorite Kiyoshi Kurosawa film since Cure. It truly lives up to its namesake. Like Kurosawa’s 1997 masterpiece, this film also features a traumatized detective (Takakura, played by Hideyoshi Nishijima), on the trail of an enigmatic antagonist (here, Nishino, played unbelievably well by Teruyuki Kagawa; Kagawa should get some award for this role. Absolutely perfect casting).
Oddly, while Creepy feels like a return to the classic Kurosawa of the 1990s, it also maybe marks a slight departure from those films. Expecting a denouement similar to Cure, this one caught me totally by surprise in the tone of final optimism it strikes. That said, there’s nothing close to optimism preceding the last 5 minutes, and Creepy is brutal and tense throughout.
Kurosawa also departs from the supernaturalism of Seance or Pulse. Again, Cure-like in that department. This is very much a film about the evil right next door. Like an all-time favorite Blue Velvet it’s also about the dark underbelly of a seemingly mundane neighborhood (see below, where I talk about Nishino’s house).
Thematically, this is also (like some of Kurosawa’s great films) about a marriage that is possibly disintegrating, and more specifically, it’s about one couples don’t say to one-another.
There are some elements of Creepy that might be frustrating to viewers. What’s this super-drug that Nishino is administering? How does Takakura overcome it when others aren’t able to? Why does Nishino need a layout of houses that’s always the same?
These are, for me, totally excusable. Who cares what the drug is? This is a great example of what I like in genre films. I don’t want to know how we can travel to the future in the same way I don’t want to know how/what that drug is. That would be boring exposition that would bring me to the same conclusion anyway. I’d only like it if it has a narrative basis (i.e. the scarcity of the drug comes into play somehow). Suspend the disbelief, let the incredibly eerie mood of Creepy take you away, and enjoy the ride.
Stylistically, Kurosawa’s diegetic soundtrack is noteworthy. This is a loud film somehow, despite being relatively quiet. That is to say: the wind, the leaves blowing, cicadas chirping. all come to a roar time and again. It’s uneasy. Kurosawa uses hard sound cuts effectively, too. Scenes begin abruptly with a train already careening by mid-roar, or with Takakura’s wife Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi) running the vacuum cleaner. The whole aural strategy is just a bit anxious.
Structurally (and aesthetically), Creepy also keeps you off-guard. The prologue, one year in the past, is almost visually corny in a way. Takakura, then a police officer, interrogates and chases a serial killer. The killer’s outfit, some of the on-the-nose dialogue, the way we’re thrown right into a police procedural, all feels a bit TV. It feels close to corny. Then the film just…goes.
There are two visual moments that I loved in Creepy. The first is Nishino’s house. It figures so prominently into the film. Here’s the moment where Nogami (Masahiro Higashide), Takakura’s former partner, investigates Nishino. Nogami enters the house in a MS. Kurosawa cuts behind him, and Nogami turns right:
Then we get a hard cut, and Nogami enters frame in the foreground, from the right. Screen direction is totally wrong here (he exits left to right above, to keep continuity he should continue left to right below):
And of course the space seems totally different. The walls are concrete, the light is green.
Then later Nogami’s boss Tanimoto (Takashi Sasano) also enters Nishino’s house. Kurosawa shows him in a high angle. We know that he has to exit frame left (below) to get to the same place where Nogami was. Kurosawa just hard cuts from that first high wide, to the next two:
Those last two shots above are again high angles. We’re wider than we were with Nogami, too. Are we supposed to believe, in shot #2 above, that if we were just to turn 180 degrees we’d be looking back into Nishino’s entryway? The pitch blackness of that door frame makes sense, but little else seems to.
Then when Takakura finally enters, Kurosawa at first uses the same initial frame he did for Tanimoto, but shows the grimy further interior slightly differently:
Now, in the last two shots above, we are in front of Takakura looking back and we can’t see the entryway. So where are we? Is Kurosawa skipping ahead in space each time? There’s no effort made to connect them (no one shot or angle moves fluidly, without cutting from space-to-space; screen direction is broken or basically non-existent). It’s like the director wants them to feel like cheated, separate spaces. And we go with it. It’s so strange and jarring, and really adds to the impossibility of Nishino and everything he does and stands for.
Here’s the other moment I loved. Mio (Ryôko Fujino) and Yasuko dispose of a body in Nishino’s basement. Kurosawa frames them pretty tightly. Mio stands, and Kurosawa pans with her, left to right:
Then, just glimpsed really briefly, in the background and out of focus, is Nishino. He’s watching TV and eating. Totally unconcerned with the crazy stuff happening closer to us in the foreground. We don’t see him again for the duration of this sequence. It’s beautiful staging – the quick glimpse is chilling enough: