Takakura, a criminal psychologist turned teacher, moves into a new neighborhood with his wife, Yasuo, in order to be closer to his work. Upon their first day, they try to make friends with their new neighbors but are met only with closed doors. That is until Yasuko meets Nishino — the strange man who lives next door. While the initial meeting is unusual it wasn't out of the ordinary but situations turn intense as both Takakura and Yasuo continue to have run-ins with Nishino. They try to brush it off as being nothing more than a person being a little weird, until Takakura meets Nishino’s daughter who says that man is not her father.
“I hate cul-de-sacs. There’s only one way out and the people are kind of weird.”
It feels a bit odd starting off with a quote from Dick Miller’s character in “The ‘Burbs” since it doesn’t explicitly match the content of Kurosawa’s latest movie, “Creepy”, but I couldn’t help but have that line run through my head as I watched the movie. Kurosawa has an innate ability of drawing out tension and horror from the monotony of everyday living, and “Creepy” is no different. There have been many films that have tackled the subject of suburban living and all the horrors that come with it, yet Kurosawa still manages to make it uncomfortable and unsettling in his return to genre filmmaking.
When criminal psychologist Takakura’s last case ends in numerous deaths, he gives up working with the police and takes up teaching psychology classes at a local university. In order to make his commute to work easier, he and his wife, Yasuko, move into a nearby neighborhood. Everyone acts cold and distant to the new couple but one neighbor in particular, Nishino, comes off as being especially strange. Takakura brushes it off as nothing more than social awkwardness but Yasuko continues to run into Nishino, with each interaction being more bizarre than the last. As the days go on, Nishino is starting to work his way into their lives more and more but Takakura becomes suspicious of their new neighbor when Nishino’s daughter discreetly says, “That man is not my father.” The incident spurs Takakura into investigating the unusual family to try and find out if they’re simply strange people, or if they somehow tie into an unsolved case where an entire family vanished. Except for the daughter.
I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan when it comes to Kiyoshi Kurosawa; the man is a stellar filmmaker and he can create an atmosphere in his movies like no other. For me though, his films can go a bit too far in their metaphors and they come off as needlessly obtuse and aimless. Again, that’s me. However, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to see his latest film, “Creepy”, while at Fantasia because he also has a unique way of capturing the often hidden, terrifying side of people and finding tension in silence.
Perhaps because of his time away from making genre films and dealing more with characters, rather than the abstract, Kurosawa doesn’t delve as deep into metaphors with “Creepy” as he did in “Cure” or “Charisma”. Instead, there’s a crime-thriller through-line that’s wrapped in a concept of exploring the paranoia and distrust amongst people because we deem one another to be creepy. Especially those who are our neighbors — we see them, we attempt to ignore them, but buried in our subconscious we wonder what’s happening inside their homes.
As usual, Kurosawa doesn’t rely on superficial elements to create tension or atmosphere. It’s the characters themselves and the interactions they have that generates the suspense and drives the movie forward. There is a bit of a ticking-clock plot that runs below the surface of the film but the crux of the movie is about the mistrust that exists between people without provocation. Then tension is ratcheted by each interaction and the general uncertainty if Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa) is related to a similar case being investigated by Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima). And even though the concept and story is familiar, “Creepy” is not a movie where I believe the audience will attempt to outwit or guess the conclusion. In part, because it’s easy enough to know where the story is going, but the film is more about letting the atmosphere envelop you.
The fact that “Creepy” is as affective as it is can be attributed to Kurosawa’s ability as a filmmaker and his skills in finding horror in everyday life and commonality, but like his previous work, the success also lies in the cast. Hidetoshi Nishijima and Yūko Takeuchi are stellar in their roles as the suspicious new couple in the neighborhood, but Teruyuki Kagawa as the weirdo Nishino is phenomenal. Even the smallest mannerisms of how Nishino moves about and how he holds himself makes his performance feel genuine but the looks he gives and the way he interacts with the other characters is unsettling. While the audience is left to stew in the atmosphere, Kagawa is able to go beyond and crawl under your skin.
Even though “Creepy” captures all of the key components that make Kurosawa’s film so unique and enjoyable, it’s hard to gauge how the movie will hold up to the fandom that was built around his previous films like “Cure”. In my opinion, “Creepy” works as well as it does because it’s less allegorical and more literal. At the very least, it doesn’t delve as deep into the metaphors as Kurosawa can sometimes. The atmosphere is particularly effective in “Creepy” because of the relatable nature of the concept, so even with the framework of the film being more of a traditional crime-thriller, the functionality is more naturalistic. It’s what sells that atmosphere and why Teruyuki Kagawa’s performance can chill you to the bone.