I am a big fan of Asian films. There is something very ethereal and strangely compelling about asian movies. Accomplished directors in the region like Kitano, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the Pang Brothers, Ming Liang Tsai (among others) can deftly manipulate image, atmosphere — the whole mise en scene in order to almost uncannily jack into our emotional core.
If we are going to talk about emotional cores though, one of the best jumping off points for movie lovers would be Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to the great Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa) has managed to build a reputation worldwide for directing some of the most brutally emotional and thought provoking films to come out of Japan in particular and Asia in general. He has amassed a fast growing group of admirers who have come to see his work as a wonderfully creative interpretation of what is happening to society. It is this personal vision that Kurosawa also injects into Kairo.
Kairo starts with a proverbial bang with a suicide that happens in such a sudden almost off-hand fashion that it makes you sit up with rapt attention. The plot eventually thickens with the discovery of a floppy disk that serves as both the reason and the catalyst for events that are some of the most eerily disturbing scenes to be put onscreen. The images of almost burnt shadows on the wall, of people disintegrating into ash, of spirits that move in a bizarre stop-start, slow-fast fashion, and fleeting shadows that dart along dark corridors leave viewers with a feeling of horror and also inescapable foreboding that something bad will happen. That Kurosawa does it with hardly any expensive visual effects is a feat and also a testament to the fact that imagination and flawless execution are the best special effects tools.
The movie looks very low budget but instead of being hampered by financial constraints it is actually strengthened by it. The grainy quality of the movie actually heightens the sense of isolation and desolation that the characters feel, by the latter half of the movie this feeling becomes an invisible force that actually starts weighing on the viewer himself. No mean feat for a movie but Kurosawa deftly handles it with an artist’s touch. The director should also be commended for taking a chance in telling a story in manner that seems so piecemeal and disjointed that you would think it will never come together. But it does so beautifully. Kurosawa’s masterful storytelling actually reminds me of Atom Egoyan’s Exotica. Both succeed in telling disparate stories that fluidly merge without feeling stilted or forced. Kairo does end in a fashion that will surely divide viewers. Although there is a finality in the ending it also leaves a few tantalizing threads that will surely engage (and enrage) people who like a more definite denouement.
Kairo is a triumph in terms of elevating horror to a very cerebral level. This is a movie that does no resort to mere cheap tricks and tired horror movie clichés. Kairo posits some very compelling philosophical questions that, more than the movie itself, would chill your bone.