Friday, March 25, 2011

Yogen (Premonition) (2004)
--- horror

Dir: Norio Tsuruta

Anyone who remembers the US television show "Early Edition" will be familiar with the plot and subject matter in this second entry of the J-Horror series of films. Fortunately, this film sticks a little bit more closely to the formula of the sub-genre without straying into some strange areas that fails to even entertain, let alone scare, the audience. Based on the 1973 manga "Kyoufu Shinbun" ("Newspaper of Terror") by Jiro Tsunoda, "Yogen" involves a high school professor (The J-Horror occupation of choice) who becomes involved with a haunted newspaper that foretells the future.

The film opens with a brief shot of an old newspaper obituary of Chizuko Mifune (the subtitles has her last name Kifune). This woman was a real-life self-proclaimed clairvoyant with psychic abilities in the Meiji dynasty (roughly around the mid 19th century to early 20th). According to this film, she killed herself and apparently foretold her own death from a newspaper article. Next we are shown a family driving on a road trip. Professor Hideki Satomi (played by Hiroshi Mikami) is finishing some business on his laptop in the backseat with his young daughter, Nana as his wife, Ayaka, (Noriko Sakai of Ju-On: the Grudge 2) drives them along. Hideki must pull over to a phone booth to urgently email his work. It's here he sees a crumpled piece of newspaper clipping with the headline "Young Girl Killed in Auto Wreck". He opens it further to see a picture of his own daughter. Meanwhile, his daughter is locked in the car seat, as Ayaka tries unsuccessfully to pull her out, she goes to get Hedeki. Out of nowhere, a huge truck slams into the car, and with the daughter trapped in the backseat the vehicle explodes. The couple rush over to the car, but realize it's already too late. Hedeki tries to find the newspaper, but it has blown away.

Three years later, we see Hedeki living alone, divorced from Ayaka, and he has become something of a paranoid distraught recluse. Ayaka on the other hand conducts research experiments with local psychics. She has been trying to collection information from these psychics through the use of nensha (thoughtography) about "the newspaper of terror". One of them, an older woman, expresses apprehension about recounting her own encounter with the phantom newspaper. She gets into a really metaphysical explanation of its possible origin, and confirms to Ayaka it is very real and very deadly. Ayaka brings up a man named Rei Kigata, who named the phenomenon, who will figure in the tale later.

Hedeki in the meantime finds himself having strange psychic episodes, one that even involves him experiencing a kind of deja vu moment. He also is involved with a morose female student of his, who suggests she has had an encounter with the newspaper herself. The paper begins to warn him about her as well, predicting her murder as a knifing victim. Meanwhile, Ayaka gets a strange and disturbing phone call from whom she believes is the old woman, prompting her to go out and check on her. Once there she goes through the house looking for clues of the woman's whereabouts and finds a scrapbook of past newspaper clippings accompanied by psychic photographs, as well as a phone number for Rei Kigata. When Ayaka gets upstairs, she finds the woman dead with a photo clutched in her hand. Ayaka calls Hedeki to set up a meeting.

Later, Hedeki is in class and goes to the student he believes is the next knifing victim, when she reveals she too has seen the phantom newspaper, and warns him it is best to do nothing. That night, Hedeki receives a visitation from the paper, as it slams against the window of his apartment. It contains the article with his student's death. Rushing out to the rescue, Hedeki realizes he's too late to save his student, as he confronts the killer but the girl ends up dead anyway. The next day he meets with Ayaka as she shows him the psychic photograph the woman had is of his face in a newspaper article. They both go to a mental institution where they see a man who had similar psychic predictions was driven insane. Soon, Hedeki's predictions begin to increase, and Ayaka goes to him as they go to find answers from Rei Kigata. They get to his place of residence, your typical shotgun shack in the boonies, and find it abandoned, but much like "Ringu" some clues were left behind via videotape. They watch old recordings of Kigata, as he describes his attempt to thwart the "dead zone" by changing the future. They find out Kigata ultimately became a ghostly figure and perished. Hedeki and Ayaka realize that he's in a catch-22, no matter what happens he cannot escape destiny.

"Yogen" is one of those psychological thriller/suspense forays into psychic phenomenon, with a decidedly horrific bent. I'm not so certain it can be called a horror film outside of some forced moments. IMHO, the story and emotional impact of the opening, may have kinda robbed the movie of allowing the audience to be in for some fun scares. We just witnessed an innocent little girl die for crying out loud. Though admittedly, there are plenty of very creepy moments peppered throughout the film. It feels like the director wants to take us on a melodramatic episodic trip with Hedeki, but realizes the story of Hedeki and his family must be resolved. All in all, this film raised the bar for the series a little.