Sunday, November 23, 2008

REVIEW: Seance - Kiyoshi Kurosawa (2000)

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

How far can you go to justify your actions? If you were given the opportunity to benefit yourself at the expense of another would you do it? How far would you go for the one you love? Could you follow through when things go bad? Can you keep a secret? All of these questions are addressed by the characters in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2000 TV adaptation of the 1964 British film “Séance on a Wet Afternoon”.

Sato (Kurosawa regular Kôji Yakusho) is a sound engineer at a local television station where he records, catalogues, and manipulates sounds for various productions. He’s diligent, exacting, but totally passionless about his work. His wife Junko is a waitress in a local family restaurant, working long hours, dealing with rude patrons, and again she’s just going through the motions. The Sato’s marriage reflects their work life; they are devoted to each other and they are not unhappy, but nor are they happy either. Their days together stretch out before them; uneventful, predictable, and entirely average. Well, there is one thing that sets the Sato’s apart, or that sets Junko apart: she is psychic. She consults with the curious and the grieving in hopes that she can contact their dead relatives. She also offers her services to a college professor who is researching psychic phenomena and for this she makes a little extra money on the side.

It isn’t until a young girl fleeing a child predator hides in one of Sato’s equipment boxes that it begins to look like the Sato’s life may finally change. Trapped in the box for a number of days the young girl is half dead once Junko discovers her. Of course they must call an ambulance… Call the police, but how are they going to explain the presence of the missing girl in their home? It’s at that moment that Junko begins to piece together a plan that will liberate her and her husband from their daily drudgery: keep the girl hidden while Junko volunteers her psychic abilities in the police search. She will dole out pieces of information as to the girl’s whereabouts and orchestrate a dramatic rescue. It’s a simple but perfect plan that will vault Junko into the spotlight and this waitress will become a renowned psychic. Wary at first, Sato can’t fight his love for his wife and soon they are both embroiled in a moral and ethical quagmire… one that gets darker and darker as their plan goes terribly wrong.

Even though its based on the Bryan Forbes original “Séance” is pure Kurosawa: the earthy and jaundiced colour palate, the almost suffocating tension, and the masterful use of sound and silence (which makes Yakusho playing a sound engineer all the more interesting). Static shots of Junko sensing the young girl’s presence, the afternoon sun flickering through a window leaving the back hallway of the Sato’s house first brightly lit then in deep shadow sent chills down my spine, but it’s not just all film technique on display. While many of Kurosawa’s films, though terrifying, are often obtuse and almost surreal affairs “Séance” uses it’s original source material to bring an accessible if not disturbing story of the terrible results of ambition and greed to the director’s filmography.

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