A spine-tingler about love and death, the allure of mystery and its perils, “Creepy” is the latest from the prolific Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. “Creepy” certainly works — looks and feels — like a horror movie, but it also has the conundrums of a detective story, the emotional currents of a domestic drama and the quickening pulse of a psychological thriller, a combination that creates a kind of destabilization. So, what is this movie, exactly?
It’s a labyrinth, for one, which begins in an interrogation room where a detective, Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is questioning a serial killer. Smiling, the murderer seems strangely relaxed, as if his crimes were routine. Takakura — believing the killer an example of a “perfect psychopath” — is eager to keep examining him, professional curiosity that comes across as clinical, but also a touch unpleasant and insensitive. A few beats later, the killer is on the loose and holding a fork to the throat of a woman; by the time the scene ends, he and the hostage are dead and Takakura is bleeding, having been grievously wounded.
This prologue turns out to be a preview of things to come, an abstract that announces, by proxy, some of the narrative players and developments: the detective, the killer, the hostage, the investigation, the murder, the pooling blood. The story proper starts humming in the next scene. It’s a year later, and Takakura and his wife, Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi), are moving into a new house with their dog. It’s a perfectly ordinary home, even if the camera position and frontal presentation — and especially the opaqued kitchen windows — may remind you of that interrogation room where so much went very wrong.
Written by Kurosawa and Chihiro Ikeda, and based on a novel by Yutaka Maekawa, the movie soon divides into two parallel narrative tracks that eventually meet. Having resigned from the force after being wounded, Takakura now works as a professor of criminal psychology at a local university. One day, a former colleague, a detective, Nogami (Masahiro Higashide), drops by the school, asking Takakura for quiet help on an old case. It involves a family, most of whom disappeared without a trace, leaving behind a mystery and a baffled, mourning daughter, Saki (Haruna Kawaguchi). Intrigued, Takakura agrees to unofficially help reinvestigate the case.
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This new investigation doesn’t preoccupy Takakura, it almost devours him. As he pursues leads, Yasuko settles into a routine at home, which includes attempting to befriend the neighbors. They prove a strange, unfriendly bunch, none more hostile and weird than Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa, fantastically horrible), who says he lives with his ailing wife and daughter. Out of loneliness, boredom and more than a little narrative convenience, Yasuko remains unfailingly pleasant to Nishino, who, after rebuffing her, abruptly turns his smile and attention on her, sweeping her up in a fog of ingratiating menace. This swift, surprising change is itself a mystery, one that feeds directly into Takakura’s rapidly overheating cold case.
Eventually, the story lines and characters converge, and the mystery is revealed but not solved, perhaps because it fundamentally does not matter. What does is how Kurosawa mines the divide between family and work, and questions the limits of love and knowledge. Don’t expect answers. Instead, consider the extraordinary moment when an overhead camera pulls back from two men — up and up, farther and farther — until they’re near specks, as if they were being cut down to existential size. Kurosawa doesn’t explain the shot or tether it to an obvious point of view. Instead, he just holds on it, inviting you to fill it with meaning or simply ponder the ineffable with dread.
Rating: ☆☆☆ 1/2
Cast: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Yuko Takeuchi, Teruyuki Kagawa, Haruna Kawaguchi, Ryoko Fujino.
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
Screenwriters: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Chihiro Ikeda.
A KimStim Films release. Running time: 130 minutes. In Japanese with English subtitles. In Miami-Dade only: Gables Art Cinema.