It Feels Like A Crime Scene: Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Creepy”
Titling a film “Creepy” is a bold move as it can either fulfill viewers’ expectations or frustrate them. Luckily, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s latest film goes above and beyond what its title implies.
Creepy opens with a static shot of two windows covered in bars in an interrogation room at a police station where a cop and a criminal are having a conversation. At first it seems as if the viewer is sharing the point of view of the criminal, but it is soon revealed to also be the point of view of the cop. This blurring places the audience in an uncomfortable situation: we are asked to participate in – but not necessarily sympathize with – the perspective of both the good guy (cop) and the bad guy (criminal).
The cop, Koichi Takekura (Nishijima Hidetoshi) has a standoff with the criminal. A woman is killed and Koichi is stabbed. Police on the scene shoot the killer and then the camera zooms in on a wounded Koichi as the film fades to black.
One year later, and Koichi is settling into a new life in a new city; retired from the force, he’s now as a professor of criminal psychology. This change seems to make his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) happy’ the couple’s relationship is a close one. They are sensitive to each other’s moods and happy to have this time together. This is revealed through believable acting as well as exceptionally clever exposition.
Yasuko has a troubling encounter with one of their next door neighbors, Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa), in a scene which relies heavily on Takeuchi’s marvelous facial expressions and body language. Later Koichi can tell that something is troubling his wife even though he did not witness the encoutner. Yet, rather than recount for him everything we have seen, she simply voices what the audience has been thinking, that Noshini is creepy, that something is not quite right.
Their neighbor isn’t the only thing to put a crack in the couple’s happy life. Koichi is drawn to a grad student’s computer program which maps out the places crime has occurred in the city. One particular dot on the map represents a curiosity. Three members of a family disappeared leaving only the female child as an unreliable witness, so the police were never able to figure out exactly what happened.
Koichi, who is bored at his new job, checks out the house where the family disappeared. Then Nogami (Masahiro Higashide), a fellow police officer, shows up at the university and convinces Koichi to once again visit the abandoned house. They both can feel that something terrible happened there even though they have no evidence. It’s clear that Koichi’s instincts for trouble have not gone away.
Ghosts play a significant role in Japanese cinema, with the most well-known examples being the Ringu and Ju-on franchises, but Creepy is unique in that we don’t actually see the ghosts, we just feel them. The film shares the same DNA as James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia and other detective noir literature in that the main character cannot let go of the past, whether that is an unsolved crime or a former life, or in this case, both at the same time.
There’s also something of Hannibal’s Will Graham in Koichi; besides the fact that he’s a cop who was stabbed by a sociopath and then became a criminal psychology professor, he also has a certain type of intuition and is haunted by his need to solve crimes.
This tension in Creepy is beautifully executed, even though at first here’s nothing that the audience – or the Takekuras – can put their fingers on specifically. Nishino is either socially awkward, legitimately crazy, a master manipulator, or some bizarre combination of all three. Koichi seems less concerned with his wife’s obvious distress than trying to solve the mystery and as a result, he makes some questionable (if understandable) decisions. The tone of the film becomes more unsettling, suspenseful, and impossible to turn away from. Our need to know increases as Koichi’s does.
As things become stranger (and eventually dangerous), the blurring of the lines between cop and criminal becomes more significant. The gut-wrenching climax feels as horrifically inexorable as the one in The Mist, until there’s an unexpected shift. Rather than relief, however, the viewer is confronted with existential, aching horror.
Creepy is full of unanswered questions that resonate deeply and will linger in the viewer’s mind well after the film is over. The parallel lines which dominate the mise en scene of nearly every frame of the film - wooden slats, stairs, window blinds, fence posts, iron gates, striped clothing - become a metaphor for the parallel fates of Koichi and Noshini.
These parallel lines have one main contrast in Creepy: the obvious clutter and disarray of Noshini’s house and his behavior. It is the seeming randomness and inexplicable nature of his pathology that are the creepiest things of all.