Shortcut #38: Premonition

I’ve been watching too many good movies lately.  This is especially disconcerting when you are known for watching bad movies, enjoy watching bad movies, and aren’t especially hunting for those elusive-but-well-praised non-bad movies.

Last night Megan and I watched a movie that disturbed us greatly, but in all the best of ways.  For example, who knew a piece of newspaper could be so terrifying?

Apparently, Tsurata Norio.

Shortcut #38: Tsurata Norio’s Premonition

Premonition

I don’t know what I expected of this movie, but I didn’t really expect it to be any good, nor did I expect to be emotionally affected by it.  I think I added it to our Netflix queue simply because of the cover and because it’s j-horror, a sub-genre I find interesting because it’s moral compass is so markedly different from that of Western horror and because of its overwhelming focus on technology being the transmitter of evil.

[A point which I tried to write about in my “William Crookes” poem.  Not about technology being the transmitter of evil – the thing is, most of these j-horror films don’t really deal with good or evil.  The forces that end up killing you are just that, forces of (super)nature, and it’s simply your bad luck that you were caught up in their wake.

What I tried to write about, and what I think j-horror is touching on, is the belief that technology can be a way to access the spirit world or the afterlife or dimensions, essentially, outside of the one we inhabit every day.  When the television was first invented (and this is the same with most new technologies) people believed that they could be used to contact the dead.  Crookes was a rigorous scientist who fell in for this belief, for a time, and did his best to obtain proof.  Of course, he failed.]

The story has a typical j-horror premise, or so it seems at first.  In short, this world is one where people can see the future through newspaper clippings that detail what horrid fate is in store for particular people, something as small as a teenager setting himself on fire or as large as a train accident causing the deaths of hundreds of people.

The movie begins with a family travelling back to Tokyo.  They stop at a phone booth so that the father can send work to his job and while he’s waiting for his computer to transmit the file, he sees the edge of  an old newspaper clipping underneath the phone book.  He picks it up, finds that it’s an obituary for his five-year-old daughter who is safe in the car across the road.  A few moments later, a truck comes barreling down the road and crashes into the car, resulting in the daughter’s death.

The main difference between this movie and much j-horror is that the people don’t search out, by chance or on purpose, the force that wreaks havoc in their lives.  In The Grudge you enter a house, and the house is the scene of a devastating crime whose emotion “ghost” kills.    In Pulse, exposure to ghosts infects you with a disease of despondency that eventually has you fade out of existence, and many of the people who die in the film do so through entering a ghost-house that has been sealed off by red tape, thereby marking their own doom.

In Premonition, the newspaper finds you and, as the movie explains, it doesn’t matter what you do.  The premonition will come true.  People are given a vision of the future, not as a gift, but more as though they are hooked into a cosmic news channel feeding them obituaries outside of time and with no higher purpose.  Eventually, the unfortunates burn-out from being a conduit for the future or kill themselves in despair.

Another key difference comes from comparing Premonition to The Ring.  The Ring focuses on the mother who is attempting to solve the riddle of the ghost tape in order to save her son who has accidentally watched the tape (and the tape spells doom in seven days for whoever watches it).  In Premonition, the death of the child has already occurred.  The movie shows the disintegration of the couple whose child died, and their struggle to get back together through understanding the mystery of the future-telling newspaper.

But it’s the newspaper that really makes this movie stand out.  Here are two examples of what I’ve left out:

1. When the husband picks up the newspaper the first time, it growls and bends towards him.
2. In one of the final scenes, the newspaper flies through the air racing a car.

The fact that this second image produces chills rather than laughter is truly amazing, and amazing because it is true.  This movie has one truly horrifying image that will stick in your mind for days – but the rest of the horror comes about through tension and through the psychological horror inherent in the minds of parents who have lost a child, and through losing that child have also lost each other.

Not just as horror, this movie is gripping for its characters studies, its perfectly cast actors, its wonderful cinematography, and a story that pulls you into the emotional worlds of the characters, rather than bludgeoning you over the head with pictorial horror.  In the last third of the film there is a nightmare (but is it?) sequence that is so creepy in the way that scenes are filmed, the way the pictures are framed, the way the camera limits what you see and when you see it, that it easily surpasses representations of horror by embodying the mood of horror so completely.

This movie is an experience not to be missed.

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