As much as I enjoy J Horror I don’t want to stray too far from the subject of The Midnight Room. With Séance, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2001 television film based on the Mark McShane novel, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, I think an exception can be made. The original 1964 British film starring Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough may already be known to fans of classic Gothic thrillers.
Briefly, the original story concerns a medium who strives for validation by coercing her husband into kidnapping a little girl whom she will then “find” through her psychic powers. While the original is certainly fodder for the psychological exploration of the two main characters, Kurosawa reinterprets the character of the wife and medium, Junco Santo, as a woman frustrated by living in the shadow of her more successful husband. Kurosawa adds an interesting new subplot: a child molester is the one who attempts to kidnap a charming little girl in a vibrant green dress. The child manages to escape and hides inside an empty equipment trunk belonging to Junco’s husband, a sound recording engineer who, not knowing the girl is inside, locks the trunk and takes it back to his home in the city.
Junco has been working with a young university student hoping to prove his theory that psychics are of value in police work. The police seek her assistance in discovering the whereabouts of the missing girl. It’s a fairly contrived plot development that the missing girl just happens to be in a trunk on the floor in the garage...and unfortunately not the film’s only plot hole. Though still alive, the couple conspires to take the girl to an abandoned location and ultimately Junco will “find” her using her psychic powers.
Well, you guessed it. Plots of this sort always go horribly wrong and next thing you know the child dies and her ghost torments her accidental murderers in true Japanese style, complete with long black hair covering her face.
Next to Hideo Nakata (Ringu, Dark Water), Kiyoshi Kurosawa is one of Japan’s leading horror film-makers, but like Western directors such as Alfred Hitchcock whose name is synonymous with horror on the strength of only two films in his oeuvre, Kurosawa’s films transcend the confines of the horror film by nature of their psychological elements. Séance, Charisma, Pulse, Doppelganger, and my personal favorite, Cure, are all outstanding examples of Kurosawa’s style. His framing is formal, but what is left outside the frame is often more important than what the camera sees. The same holds true for his scripts. The screen stories have an unnerving sense of ambiguity, which brings to mind Nicholas Roeg’s adaptation on Don’t Look Now. Though the visual aspect of Kurosawa’s films are devoid of luscious Gothic eye candy, they manage to be bleak and moody, and at their core are disturbing psychological thrillers involving any number of paranormal element and thus deserve a special place upstairs in The Midnight Room.