APRIL 10, 2011
In a bold slap in the face to the entire point of doing HMAD, I couldn’t recall a goddamn thing about Nightmare Detective, despite only having watched it three years ago. So I used my review as a refresher, and as I watched Nightmare Detective 2 (Japan: Akumu Tantei 2) some stuff came back, including “this feels really small” and “this movie doesn’t have any cool nightmare scenes like the original”. But luckily, it didn’t carry the same story, which is good because I didn’t understand a good chunk of the original movie, and this one is pretty easy to follow. I’d actually suggest watching it first.
Because while it’s more accessible, it’s not nearly as interesting on a visual or storytelling basis. There are very few nightmares in the movie, and apart from some “sight gags” like a woman with a caved in face (she looks like a Garbage Pail Kid of some sort), there isn’t a lot of striking or memorable imagery like the original had. There’s also much less of a scope; it seems more than half the movie takes place in Kagenuma’s apartment, even the nightmare scenes are either in there or other, similarly mundane locales. Worse, director Shinya Tsukamoto goes way overboard with the shaki-cam this time around (can’t recall if he used it at all on the original, but if so it wasn’t excessive enough for me to complain about it), rendering many of the scare scenes simply annoying. More than once I thought he was depicting an earthquake, because our characters would get scared but the camera would be shaking too much for me to come up with any other reason why.
One way it is similar to the original is that they don’t really focus on the title character all that much. As with before, he is being asked to use his unique powers in order to help someone, and we spend a lot of time with her and the situations that pertain to her story. Kagenuma has a bigger subplot this time around (recurring nightmares about his dead mother), but there are still large chunks of the film where he seems absent, and I was hoping we could have more of a focus on him this time. The girl/ghost story is mostly standard J-horror stuff, so by sticking with him more it could have helped the movie carve out more of its own identity.
But it’s fairly enjoyable all the same. The disturbed mother subplot was pretty interesting, and the climax finally delivered some of that creepy imagery I had missed. I also enjoyed the relationship between Kagenuma and the girl; the scene where he finally decides to help her is almost sort of moving (as moved as I can be by two somewhat undeveloped characters coming together after an initial refusal to help). I just wish it was like the 4th or 5th movie in the series, after it had presumably gotten kind of crazy and someone decided to tone things back down a bit. It’s such a great concept/character, it feels almost like a waste to make the 2nd film so small and insular, especially since it’s not all devoted to him or his abilities. It’d be like if Matrix 2 was just Neo and Morpheus staring at computer screens for 80 minutes and then finally decided to jack in to fight one guy at the very end.
The DVD I got, by the way, was some all region import from Bonzai Media that I bought at Amoeba for 1.99. Dimension released the first film here in 2008, when this one was already completed, so I can only assume it didn’t sell particularly well or the producers wanted too much money for it, something that certainly wouldn’t sit well with the notoriously cheap Weinsteins. It’s a pretty lame DVD, not only does it not offer any language options, but it doesn’t even have a proper chapter search – just breaks every 5 minutes (no menu to select from, either). Sure, it was 1.99, but it’s still a legitimate release, and seemingly our only option – they could at least put a little effort into it.
Back to what I was saying before, since this one is more accessible on a narrative level, I might suggest watching it first, and if you like it, then you go check out the original, which is bigger and more confusing (in a fun way). Either way, both are unique films and I can see myself revisiting them if time allows (I seem to have sold my copy of the first one, unfortunately). It would also make for a very cool survival horror video game a la Silent Hill, I think.
What say you?