Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Inerasable (2015)

Original title: 残穢 -住んではいけない部屋- Zan'e: Sunde wa ikenai heya

Mystery novel writer Ai (Yuko Takeuchi) earns her daily bread by turning true ghost stories her readers send her into a series of newspaper tales. When an architecture student we’ll call Ms. Kubo (Ai Hashimoto) sends her a story about the curious swishing noise of heavy fabric on tatami mats she hears coming from the bedroom of the small apartment she has just moved into, Ai becomes instantly fascinated. Ms. Kubo’s first thought of the noise being the sound of somebody sweeping the floor takes on a more sinister quality soon enough, suggesting the dragging back and forth of a loose kimono sash worn by a hanged woman. Trying to explain what is going on, she makes various inquiries, learning that, even though nobody killed themselves in her apartment as she has begun to assume, the former tenant did kill himself after he moved out. Stranger still, the apartment building has an uncomfortably high turnaround rate in tenants. More research uncovers hers isn’t the only apartment in which strange things happen.

Ai and Ms. Kubo continue the research, increasingly teaming up in person, where they only talked via email before, discovering one terrible and disquieting thing after the next.

Yoshihiro Nakamura’s The Inerasable is a wonderful film, telling its tale of a series of interconnected hauntings, or the tales about these hauntings in the calmest and most gentle of voices which belies the actual horror lurking behind them. Nakamura, as the director of the wonderful Fish Story, has more than just a bit of experience with shaggy dog tale structures, and uses his considerable control about this format here wonderfully. Unlike in Fish Story, the shaggy dog here is more of a shaggy abyss, of course.

One of the film’s great strengths is its ability to create a sense of place and of community, digging backwards into the lives and times of a specific building lot, implying the mores and characters of the people populating it over time with just the right, short, strokes, while at the same time creating lively characters out of our two heroines, their increasing entourage of helpers, and all the people that tell them their stories, or more often the stories they heard from others, in the process. On this level the film not only tells creepy stories but also explores how communities create stories out of their lives. Nakamura does all this with a very impressive eye for the telling detail that brings a character to life, putting the rest in the hands of a capable cast of Japanese character actors of all generations.

As a shock-delivering device, The Inerasable isn’t terribly great. The handful of direct horror sequences suffer a bit from Nakamura’s insistence on some rather bad looking CGI effects, and sound design that’s – apart from the really creepy swishing – too generic to be effective. However, the actual manifestation of the supernatural isn’t really where the film’s terror lies. Rather, this core lies in the way every ghost story its two main protagonists uncover is in fact just the result of another, even more terrible one, that itself covers a different one and grows tendrils of other just as terrible stories. If you’re just looking long and hard enough, and peel off enough layers, the film suggests, every place is haunted, and all hauntings seem to be connected to something terrible in the end. Which does of course fit nicely into the Japanese style curse the film concerns itself which tend to operate like a supernatural or spiritual virus. Unlike me, Nakamura and his film suggest all this in a gentle thoughtful tone, probably offering you tea next; it’s quite wonderful, reminding me not so much directly of M.R. James but of the mild, ironic tone James framed his ghost stories with so often.

So, if you like your ghost stories gentle but not at all harmless, told with a deep feeling for the humanity of all characters you encounter but not looking away from terrible implications (even when the characters try), this one’s for you.

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