Apr 5, 2013

Tormented (2011)
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Writers: Sotaro Hayashi, Daisuke Hosaka, Takashi Shimizu
Starring: Hikari Mitsushima, Takeru Shibuya, and Teruyuki KagawaC

The Plot: Tormented begins with a relatively disturbing sight: a young boy stares down at a rabbit that appears to be terminally injured. As the rabbit breaths profusely while bleeding out, the boy, instead of being disgusted or sad, nonchalantly takes a large brick and brings it crashing down on the little creature. This little boy is Daigo (Takeru Shibuya), the little brother of our main protagonist Kiriko (Hikari Mitsushima). Kiriko, who has been mute since her childhood, is worried for her brother, but she finds herself unable to draw her father’s attention to the problem. After going to the movies and watching a 3D horror movie, Daigo sees a strange vision within the theater. He sees a stuffed rabbit floating down from the screen, and from this point onward he is continually assaulted in his dreams by a large rabbit. The rabbit keeps pointing Daigo towards a hospital, but the young boy can not understand what the creature wants. Will he and Kiriko figure out this monster’s secret before it is too late?

The Review
To be perfectly honest, I do not have a lot of history with Takashi Shimizu’s work and I’ve never felt a great deal of passion for the work of his that I have seen. I don’t hold anything against the man, but his films have always been relatively problematic in my opinion. From the low budget feel of Ju-on and forward, his work has never grabbed me and made me into an immediate fan. However, there’s no arguing that in the past he has proven his ability as a director that has won the respect and admiration of many. So, going into Tormented with the mindset: “where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire,” I sat through Tormented searching for something that might grab my attention. With Christopher Doyle (arguably one of the best cinematographers to come from Asia) providing the photography and a plot synopsis that refers to characters being “tormented” by a plush bunny rabbit… well, I honestly didn’t have to look very far. While Tormented is a genre movie through-and-through, there’s a surreal vein going through the movie that makes it worth watching.

Dealing with the content that Tormented does, it’s not surprising that the movie takes on a meta-twist. In one of the more obvious sequences to point out, we see our two leads watching scenes from Shimizu’s previous film Shock Corridor while visiting a movie theater. They do this while wearing 3D glasses no less, during a sequence that was likely the ultimate display of that technology within this film. No doubt, the 3D element is a big part of what makes this movie the spectacle that it is. It was Christopher Doyle’s first 3D film, which is by itself enough to grab many members of the film geek community, and it isn’t often that Westerners get to experience something like this from Japan. 3D Japanese films are a rarity, and with this being a title that fits into the still-semi-lucrative Japanese horror genre it was only a matter of time before it hit our shores. This 3D sequence is both meta, hokey, and contains a winking eye to the audience that is missing throughout the majority of the film. While I’m no big fan of the technology (those glasses really start to hurt my eyes), I do enjoy the way that it was incorporated into Tormented. Partly an ode to the campiness found in horror cinema within the past and partly effective in its spookiness, Tormented doesn’t shy away from putting 3D objects directly in the camera’s lens.

The unfortunate problem with Asian horror post-boom is that the genre has become spoofed and parodied so much at this point that it nearly seems ludicrous to imagine a filmmaker using the visual motif of a scary child or a woman with long black hair flowing in front of her face – yet, many films are still doing it. Even The Tormented does on occasion. This makes it hard for some audiences to check their critical minds at the door, because they have been programmed at this point to not take this one visual cue as something serious or threatening. Yet, despite the fact that there are some very obvious Japanese “ghosts” within the movie, Tormented specializes in its otherworldly imagery. The movie bounces back and forth between the very placid reality that our characters live within and a abstract and surreal child’s nightmare. Shimizu, despite any conventional material used here, makes solid use of some very bizarre ideas. Using the rabbit from Shock Corridor, there are some nightmarish sequences revolving around what appears to be a grown man in a bunny costume. However, when its eyes are revealed to be blinking, and we see numerous dead animal mascots hanging from trees in the background, a stark and nightmarish conversion of worlds takes place on the screen.
Tormented could be accused of many things, but it seems difficult for me to call it formulaic. Although it certainly has some elements that scream “Japanese horror,” the movie manages to borrow from numerous other areas aside from just the Ringu franchise. Instead, Shimizu’s film is a surreal nightmare that starts off tempting formula and then slowly deviates into psychological terror. Yet, the nightmarish dreams within our story, the ones that showcase the previously mentioned monstrous rabbit, are the true bread and butter of the movie. Unfortunately, this rabbit is likely to be divisive for some audience members. Afterall, there’s no questioning the fact that a fluffy, walking, blinking bunny rabbit is a pretty silly horror movie villain. Yet, the peculiar atmosphere within the film and the dreamlogic that takes hold seems to be enough to actually make this all work on some level. In a project that should have, for all intents and purposes, been a “director for hire” gig, Shimizu and his team gather a lot of creative energy for this one. While it sure isn’t great, it is morbid and bizarre enough to make it an infatuating watch.

The Conclusion
Tormented isn’t going to set the cinematic world on fire, but it is surprisingly good for this type of subject matter. Still, it has some problems. There are some twists and turns within the story that seem a bit hackneyed, and some of the general plot points are predictable, but overall this is a fun slice of horror that is easily recommended. It gets a solid three out of five.