Nightmare Detective (2006)
By: J.R. Gregory on May 14, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Dimension Extreme (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 5.1, English DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 106 minutes
The Movie
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Hitomi, Shinya Tsukamoto
Screenplay: Shinya Tsukamoto
Country: Japan
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A man enters a room and sits down to eat. On a peg on the wall behind him is a wig of long, black hair. An arm comes out from behind the man, and soon a second person is seated with him. The first man is unsurprised to see him there. The second man, Kyoichi Kagenuma (Ryuhei Matsuda) tries to convince the man to wake up, that it is dangerous to stay where he is, that he has entered his dream at great personal risk, but fails. Kyoichi returns to wakefulness to find the first man has died in his dream.

Welcome to the world of Shinya Tsukamoto's Nightmare Detective.

Being able to enter another's dreams has been an often used story in cinema, with films like the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and Dreamscape being examples. Even J-Lo did it in the execrable The Cell, so there is not much new here. However, this is Shinya Tsukamoto, creator of such iconic works as Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Tokyo Fist, Bullet Ballet and A Snake of June, a filmmaker who can hardly be described as a follower. His movies can be described as a hybrid of David Lynch and David Cronenberg, with their visceral depictions of man versus machine, the breakdown of the individual, and an eye for the bizarre visual metaphor, so it was with interest that I watched Nightmare Detective.

Soon after the opening scene we meet Keiko Kirishima (Hitomi-a Japanese pop music singer and first-time actress), an attractive young police woman who has taken a voluntary demotion to experience gritty, street-level detective work. Her first case involves the apparent suicide of a young woman, although Keiko has her doubts aroused when she finds the dead girl's mobile phone was used to call someone called '0'. When a second suicide victim is found with the same number dialled on his phone, the police suspect that a killer is loose with hypnotic powers, allowing him or her to enter the dreams of others and get them to kill themselves. Alternative police procedures are enlisted, and Kyoichi is contacted. After his previous experiences, combined with his own misanthropy and self-loathing, Kyoichi is reluctant to assist Keiko and her colleagues. He does eventually come to assist the police, but not before '0' (played by Shinya Tsukamoto) claims another victim. Keiko decides that she will call '0' and trap him that way, setting the stage for the confrontation inside a dream.

There are problems with this film. The story is predictable and the characters uninspiring. Partly it was the choice of leads. Hitomi seems to only have two facial expressions (pensive and more pensive) throughout the whole venture. She spends virtually the entire movie in a micro-mini skirt standing around with that attempt at an intense stare on her face and her arms crossed. Her opposite Ryuhei Matsuda is one of those whiny types that you wish would just kill themselves and leave the rest of us alone. They offer nothing to their roles, and made me care little about them.

Unlike other Tsukamoto movies that, once you have gotten over some stunning visuals, are essentially examinations of how people react to extreme situations, the characters in Nightmare Detective are no more than ciphers going through the motions of a confused plot. Here is the troubled loner with a gift, here is the bright young policewoman looking to prove herself in a man's world, here is the tortured killer with a dark past, so you can guess what happens next. It has all been done before and done better.

There are some redeeming qualities. The chase sequences within the dreams are exciting - you never knowing where the next attack is coming from, and they show impressive Evil Dead-style camera work. The gore is well done, but there is not enough of that to sustain interest. Numerous themes are brought up, such as loneliness, isolation and connecting with others through technology, but it is insubstantial and is not explored in any detail. If Nightmare Detective was done by a first-time director, I could say that this shows promise but needs work. But this is Shinya Tsukamoto, so the result is even more disappointing.
Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement, the visuals are mostly clear and impressive. Any murkiness is most likely intentional.
The sound is crisp, clear and presented in Dolby 5.1. Within the dream sequences, the multi-channels certainly add to the uncertainty about where the killer is coming from.
Extra Features
Two extras on offer: the Theatrical Trailer and a short Making of featurette. The Making of documentary is interesting in that Tsukamoto considers Nightmare Detective to be first part of a series of films. Perhaps a second film can further explore the themes raised here.
The Verdict
I'm a big Tsukamoto fan, having been blown away by his previous work, even enjoying such relatively commercial ventures as Hiruko the Goblin, so was very disappointed with this. For a director who brings such intensity to his films that work on numerous levels, Nightmare Detective is surprisingly shallow and flat. It comes across as undeveloped and unoriginal, something that is distinctly un-Tsukamoto. Others may enjoy this, but it left me feeling distinctly underwhelmed.
Movie Score
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