Hideo Nakata is due for a rebirth, and maybe it will be with Kaidan, his new film that opened in Japan last week. Nakata, the man behind Ring (or Ringu, if you want), seems to have been beating a dead horse for a while now. Don't get me wrong, I would be the first to defend The Ring and the avalanche of so-called J-horror that followed. The original Ring (1998) is a great horror film with loads of style and substance. (Ring also has a special place in my heart, because it was Ring that pushed me towards my very first PAL converting Malata region free DVD player; the Japanese DVD had no subs, but it was out in the UK. The frenzy was too much, I had to see it.) However, Nakata's subsequent Japanese Ring 2 (1999) and US Ring 2 (2005), left much to be desired. Dark Water (2002) was also treading the same territory. Attempts to break from the mold, (Chaos 1999, Sleeping Bride 2000, and Last Scene 2002) have fallen flat. Who can blame him for returning to the franchise that wins the big money, press and popularity, even if it means sacrificing some creativity. (There are rumors that Nakata has signed on for a US Ring 3 due out in 2008.) It is under these circumstances that I find his new film so encouraging.
In an interview with the Japan Times, Nakata explains that he is really not a fan of the contemporary horror genre. He explains that it is the period dramas that he enjoys, which is clearly what Kaidan draws from. Nakata sites Sadao Yamanaka's Humanity and Paper Balloons (1937), Kenji Mizoguchi's The Crucified Lovers (1954) and Kenji Misumi's Yotsuya Kaidan (1959) as inspirations for his new film, but it is probably Nobuo Nakagawa's films that Kaidan most resembles in style and plot. Unfortunately only Nakagawa's film Jogoku is available here in the US (with his film Snake Woman's Curse due out at the end of August.) Nakagawa's most famous films were full of female ghosts and the men who fell pray to them.
The other appealing thing about Nakata's Kaidan is what seems to be an involved plot with an multitude of characters, intersecting curses, and the real ambiance of a mystery. It goes like this: "250 years ago. Soetsu, a humble moneylender, is murdered by Shinzaemon, a cruel samurai, and his body is disposed of in Kasane-ga-fuchi - the pool of a snaking river where, legend has it, those who sink into the water will never float to the surface again. 20 years later, in a chance encounter, Shinkichi, the handsome son of Shinzaemon, meets Toyoshiga, the daughter of Soetsu, and they fall in love. When Toyoshiga dies from a strange disease, Shinkichi finds that not only is he unable to avoid the mysterious fatality of the past and Toyoshiga's tenacious love for him, but he is also forced to confront the ghostly truths held by Kasane-ga-fuchi." (Plot summery from hideonakata.com)
The trailer looks absolutely stunning. (Although there's an Ayumi Hamasaki song prominently featured in the trailer and the official website, I think this is no more than good ol' Japanese marketing than a representation of the film's soundtrack.) Three trailers can be found HERE on gomorrahy.com, along with ample photos. None of the trailers contain subtitles, but who cares. Watch them, you'll see what I mean. Kaidan opened in Japan on August 4th. Although it did modest business on opening weekend, at number eight, hopefully Kaidan will find a longer play time and will deliver Nakata beyond the Ring.
If you have some time on your hands and are not afraid of websites in Japanese, check out the official website HERE. (Click on 人口 and wait.)