THE DUKE ON SEANCE (KOREI)
If I’ve learned nothing else from the lessons thrust down my spine
by the vigilant fists of fate, then at least I picked up the
Asian Filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa doesn’t for a second give a good
fuck in a bucket about trivialities like narrative or plot or
“sense”, and if you thought he did, then you’re so wrong as to be
right, almost. But not quite.
Maybe the blurb on the back of the case will say about “Ooh, spooky
shit goes down like you wouldn’t fucking believe, as ghosts start
appearing all over the place and also somebody gets murdered”, but
probably that right there will be the least of the film’s concerns.
Also, if, like The Duke, you bought a Region 3 version, then
probably those sentiments will be expressed via some gloriously
awful translatory work. “You wouldn’t believe. Ghosts are appearing
and a murder of somebody, but spooky shit.” That kinda linguistic
Anyhow, what happened a while back was that The Duke, inspired by
the existential concerns and general eeriness of this Kurosawa
cat's motion-flickery, picked up a copy of his 2000 spook-fest
Korei, or Séance. Through some supernatural tomfoolery of some
sort, the expected review of said work never surfaced. Maybe it
went off into the woods for to find a gypsy witch ghost of some
kind, and then what happened was something about a house with scary
wallpaper and the camera falls over. Maybe it turned out that said
review actually was a ghost, and upon learning of its new-found
freedom, it set off for to offer psychological assistance to
disturbed young people, or hang around in chimney’s tapping on the
bricks now and again, freaking the fuck out of the Victorian
Aristocracy. Whatever the case, that motherfucker never showed its
stinking critical hide for a second.
Until now, when, being “fucked with the flu” (medical terminology),
The Duke finds himself thinking back to the film about is there a
God, can science prove anything, what’s it all about, Alfie, and so
If maybe you’ve seen, say, Kurosawa’s 2001 epic Kairo, about ghosts
come out through the internet but really all that matters is that
humanity is beating itself into a tiny atomised hole and we’re all
fucked, then most likely you’ll know what to expect from Séance,
about a psychic has freaky visions but really all that matters is
that humanity is beating itself into a tiny atomised hole and we’re
Pretty much all the Kurosawa hallmarks are present;
Characters are either socially disengaged with one another, or
visually disengaged with one another, or both at the same time.
Kurosawa obviously saw one or two Bergman flicks in his day,
framing his shots with clinical precision, ensuring that even if
two folks are in the same damn room, we’re gonna be seeing them in
such a way that they appear utterly separated, like maybe one of
them is framed by a window or some such. Nobody connects with
We’re fucked, is what, fucked in the nuts and incapable of any
meaningful relationship whatsoever.
And if you thought you might not have to think throughout, then
what you are is very, very wrong, since not only do you need to
think again for to fix that first thought, but also, Séance is
gonna throw some philosophical banter into your teeth every damn
chance it gets. From the second the thing starts, we’re already
knee-deep in talk of science and psychic ability and philosophy and
existentialism. You haven’t even seen the credits yet and already
you need to be taking notes about God and Nietzsche and all sortsa
shit. By all rights you’d expect some motherfucking footnotes to
flash at the bottom of the screen every now and again.
I don’t recall any such debate occurring throughout, say, The
Toolbox Murders. Maybe there’s a DVD version that has “More
Philosophy Than We Could Show In Theatres!!!” and so on, but
certainly not in the version I saw. For the most part, horror
cinema tends to be uncharacteristically subtle when it comes to the
“Big Issues” and the like. For sure, there’s a lot more going on in
Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2 or I Spit On Your Grave than some folks
would care to admit, but at the same time, it’s feasible that some
folks could, and do, in fact, miss every damn point that’s being
There ain’t no way in hell Kurosawa’s gonna let that shit happen.
In fact, what might happen is the complete opposite. Maybe someone
will come up and say “Wow, what a freaky ghost story!” and you’ll
be all “The fuck you talking about, ghosts? Weren’t a damn ghost to
be seen. You read too much into these things, you pretentious
motherfucker. Why can’t you just accept that it’s nothing more than
a series of ruminations on the nature of humanity? Why do you have
to bring all this ghost shit into it? Why can’t you just sit back
and enjoy the discussion of psychoanalytical theory? You fucking
students sicken me.”
Séance was made for Japanese telly back in 2000, but it ain’t in
the slightest bit like the TV Movies us Western folks have come to
know and despise. Here, we can be pretty sure that any TV Movie
that doesn’t feature Kirsten Dunst or, at the very least, Bruce
Campbell, is gonna be a hideous rape of our good sense and reason
as a society. If it’s been flung together by the Sci-Fi channel,
you can bet your last gut that it’s gonna be on a par with
stringing yourself up by the nuts to a flaming helicopter headed
for the side of Mount Kilamangiro.
Again, excepting the presence of Kirsten or, to a lesser extent, Mr
If both Kirsten and Campbell were involved, of course, it could
only be the greatest motion picture event of the last 300
But I digress.
In this case, all that TV Movie means is that Kurosawa had less
money to play with than he might have had, should Séance have been
a theatrical pursuit.
Which, in fact, it already was. The flick is an adaptation of Mark
McShane’s Séance On A Wet Afternoon, already filmed under that
title by Bryan Forbes way back in 1964. Kurosawa’s version differs
considerably, not least in the manner in which the whole diabolical
plot unravels. Where Forbes told of calculated kidnapping and
opportunism, Kurosawa has everything relying on fate, and on some
utterly implausible coincidences.
What the story concerns itself with, is a woman with psychic
abilities finds herself being enlisted by the police so that she
might help them solve various unsolvable mishaps and conundrums.
Her husband is a sound recorder for a TV company, and one day finds
himself out in the woods, recording various woods-related squawks
Little does he know, however, that a paedophile type has chased a
young girl into those self same woods, and by way of escaping, she
has climbed inside a large steel case he’s set by the car.
Wouldn’t you know it, though, the Sound Recorder lifts the case,
puts it back in the car, and forgets all about it. The psychic lass
is approached by the police for to help find the girl, and so
begins a whole series of incredibly bleak musings on the price of
fame, of greed, and of being one of those human-types.
Obviously, if a fella wants to get drawn into all the procedural
malarkey, he has to be prepared for to swallow a fairly large
helping of Fucking Ridiculous Pie.
If this Sound Recorder cat went to the bother of packing this steel
case, and then taking it out the car and setting it on the ground,
obviously it had a purpose. Maybe it held some equipment of some
sort, possibly even something to do with the “recording” of
“sound”. We’ll never fucking know.
Stands to reason that if he took something out of the case and
wandered off, when he returned, first thing he’d do would be open
the case and put the stuff back in. At the very least, you’d
imagine that when he lifted the previously-empty case for to put it
back in the car, he’d realise that it’d gotten a fuck of a lot
heavier all of a sudden.
“Fuck me”, he might proclaim. “This here box what had fuck all in
it, and what I placed here for no real reason whatsoever, suddenly
feels very heavy, like as if something, perhaps, were inside it.
Maybe what I should do is look inside.”
Kurosawa wants you to believe that these thoughts never enter the
I’m sorry, Kurosawa. I mean, maybe you thought you would’ve tired
The Duke the fuck out by now, what with all the pondering and
musing and hypothesising. Well think the fuck again, man. Ain’t no
amount of full-on philosophical banter gonna leave me so numbed in
the skull that I can accept a motherfucker taking a case with him
for no reason, leaving it beside his car for no reason, and not
noticing that said case now holds something the weight of a small
child. That typea shit just ain’t gonna wash, Kurosawa. Look, here
it is, smeared all over the screen like as if the telly were GG
Allin after a curry. I’ll scrub all day, man, and that shit will
just hang there, getting ever shittier. Some flies might even
appear, Kurosawa. I just ain’t for a minute gonna forget it, no
So as a detective type thing, it’s just too fucking stupid. And as
a horror film, aside from a really rather bloody freaky séance at
the start, and a couple visitations here and there, it’s not
particularly effective. But for some unfathomable reason, it works.
There’s a bizarre illogical logic running throughout, and you get
the sense that Kurosawa could very well have strung a cohesive
narrative together, it’s just that he couldn’t give a shit. He just
wants to think about how human beings might react in these
circumstances, and best just to fling them into the situation as
quickly as possible, no matter how half-arsed said flinging may
It’s flawed, it’s staggeringly pretentious on occasion, but it’s
also incredibly atmospheric, and fiercely intelligent. How often do
you see Bergman-esque character studies being incorporated into
horror cinema? Not since Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, I’m guessing.
It even has elements of Macbeth woven throughout, although if we’re
gonna talk about reinterpretations of Macbeth by Asian Filmmakers
by the name of Kurosawa, then I’m afraid Throne Of Blood pisses all
over the competition.
It’s no Kairo, but if you can find it, you really should allow it
to seep into your skull-gunk for a time.
Drop The Duke A Line or Leave A Message In The