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April 16, 2008


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Kiyoshi Kurosawa - 2006
Lionsgate Region 1 DVD

For a good part of its length, Retribution seems like nothing more than a reworking of Cure, the film that brought Kurosawa to international attention. This is not to say that this is a bad film, but so much of it seems derivative from not only Kurosawa's past work but the films of others. The plot twist does bring up an interesting point, directly commenting on the film that is most identified with contemporary Japanese horror films, The Grudge. Kurosawa has never been interested in simply working within the confines of the horror genre. While Retribution may succeed for some for its surface spookiness, what Kurosawa attempts to explore is the symbiotic relationship between people and ghosts.

Like many of Kurosawa's other films, this is also about memory. Do people need ghosts? Do ghosts need people? If the questions seem silly, it is only because Kurosawa is attempting to symbolic and literal at the same time. What is seen onscreen seems less silly if allowances are made for some suspension of disbelief.

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Koji Yakusho again portrays a detective, Yoshioka, investigating puzzling cases of urban madness that have no clear connections. Cases are solved on what seems to be an intuitive basis. Kurosawa's characters often live in dark, rundown apartments or houses. Urban alienation has been a consistent thread in Kurosawa's universe, with lonely ghosts and lonely people sharing the same grimy spaces. The title is less obvious than it may seem if one considers that retribution can mean both punishment and reward. The Japanese title translates as "Scream", which could not have been used because of the American film of that title. The scream referred to here is that of one of the ghosts, not so much of a scream as an abstract sound that emerges from the mouth of the ghost of such intensity that Yoshioka runs in fear.

The sense of the abstract or mechanical also informs the look of the film. It isn't Fernand Leger, but many of the compositions are made up of circles and squares interrupted by the placement of the characters. This is not surprising as the word "mechanical" often recurs in discussing Kurosawa's universe. In discussing the origin of Retribution with FearZone, Kurosawa stated: "In the past I've featured ghosts in so many films. In most of them, I've treated those apparitions as something enigmatic and completely beyond the understanding of living humans. Lately, however, I've begun to realize the obvious fact that ghosts are just like any of us human beings. The only difference is that ghosts are human beings who have lived in the past. Therefore, I realized that from this point of view of the past, we may be able to reexamine the relationship between ghosts and humans and also by understanding the past we may learn to better understand ghosts, or human beings who have passed on. This is what got me started writing Retribution." Kurosawa has described his newest film, Tokyo Sonata as a family drama. This isn't much of a stretch because whenever families get together, they frequently talk about the past. In other words, it's still a ghost story.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 16, 2008 12:34 AM