Directed by Norio Tsuruta, 2004, 95 mins., starring Hiroshi Mikami, Noriko Sakai, Hana Inoue, Daisuke Ban, Maki Horikita, Mayumi Ono and Kei Yamamoto.
With this first double-bill release (in tandem with Masayuki Ochiai's Infection) from the J-Horror Theatre series, Premonition (aka Yogen, aka J-Horror Theatre 2) presents avid fans of the genre with a pretty stellar roll-call: Norio Tsuruta directing, a Kenji Kawai soundtrack, Taka Ichise producing, and some pretty good actors (eg Noriko Sakai, whose performance in Ju-on: The Grudge 2 was strong, and Daisuke Ban, who starred in the Ring series of movies).
However, unlike some slightly better-respected genre directors, Tsuruta's soft-focus, slightly romanticised style of direction too often robs a great horror angle of its brutal impact. Two cases in point are Kakashi and Ring 0: Birthday, where his tendency of pushing the story towards melodrama and away from horror rendered both pieces rather ineffective and somewhat anodyne. Despite sticking doggedly to his trademark melodramatic approach, with Premonition Tsuruta has finally managed to create a work full of credible scenes of high tension and some truly unnerving and chilling moments.
The cinematography and composition is very stylish (although at times it's let down by some severely awful CGI that looks like it was created by a ten-year-old with MS Paint) and the visuals are sleek and glossy. The soundtrack is as attractive and ominous as you might expect from a master of movie music such as Kenji Kawai and recalls his previous work with Ring very strongly at times.
Much of what is good about the movie is somewhat marred by Hiroshi Mikami's horrible acting. He is the only actor I've ever seen who looks terrified by his own shoes - even at points when there's absolutely nothing happening, his continually bug-eyed expression of PURE HORROR recalls Shuugo Oshinari's very strange turn in Battle Royale II (and that is not a kindly comparison on my part) and his entire performance is hammier than Vincent Price eating a hamburger with an extra heapin' helpin' of ham ;-)
On paper, the synopsis reads not unlike something from the classic US 60's black and white TV show The Twilight Zone - I was half-expecting the Japanese equivalent of Rod Serling to pop up and say something cheesy at times ;-) The movie displays a charming, nostalgic feel akin to, say, Armchair Thriller or Hammer House of Horror, thanks in no small part to the fact that its main storyline is derived from a 1970's manga by Jiro Tsunoda ("Newspaper of Terror", aka "Kyofu Shimbun"). However, the rest of the plot follows a similar motif (and with many knowing nods) to the original core story of Hideo Nakata's Ring, which is an interesting twist: it's certainly far closer in feel and theme to that movie than Tsuruta's own episode of that series, Ring 0.
Like Ring, it deals with the concept of nensha, a phenomenon whereby psychic powers can be used to project images onto photographs, videotape or any other kind of media. The plot also references the famous psychic Chizuko Mifune, the famous medium discovered by a spiritualistic professor and who later committed suicide, upon whom Yamamura Shizuko and Dr. Ikuma were based. And, just like the movie version of Ring (not the novel itself), it deals with an awkward central relationship between two divorcees who are in danger and need to help each other. Crikey, it even features Daisuke Ban - who of course played Dr Ikuma in the theatrical series! What more evidence do you need? ;-)
A young family is on the way back from visiting elderly relatives - Satomi Hideki (Hiroshi Mikami), an assistant college professor, his wife Tachihara Ayaka (Noriko Sakai) who also works the same job, and their small daughter Nana (Hana Inoue). Whilst in the car, Hideki tries to send a very important email on his laptop, but can't get a connection. So he finds a payphone with a jack to plug in his PC, and sends his mail.
However, while he's waiting, he finds a bit of newspaper under the phone book, which all but jumps out of his hands in a very bizarre fashion, and floats to the floor. When he picks it up, he gets the fright of his life: there is an article announcing the death of his daughter in a car crash on the page. But how can that be possible? She's very much alive and out in the car! He checks his watch - and the time of death listed is about a minute into the future. Before he can show the article to his wife, who has gotten out of the car to find out what's wrong, a truck ploughs into the car with Nana still in it and kills her.
Of course, this is a tragedy in its own right, but what makes it worse for Hideki is that not only did he know about his daughter's death right before it happened and feels like he could have prevented it, he also never got a chance to show anyone the piece of newspaper that proves his insane-sounding story.
Three years later, Hideki and his wife have divorced, and there are a series of random knifings taking place in the college where Hideki teaches, claiming five victims to date already. Tachihara is now working as a researcher into the paranormal – presumably after what happened to her husband and his mysterious newspaper article. She is in the process of testing a psychic who is able to project nensha onto instant Polaroid photographs of her own face; the resulting pictures never show her own face on the picture, but only places, blurry images, buildings, and other people. When Tachihara asks the psychic to do some tests with her involving newspapers, she refuses point-blank, seemingly terrified – and it emerges that she knows about Hideki's problem – and suffers from it herself.
It also transpires that a fellow researcher and medium, Kigata Rei, discovered a phenomenon whereby certain people receive the psychic equivalent of the future obituary section of the "Newspaper of Terror", whether they like it or not, and can predict disasters and deaths by seeing mystical newspaper articles appearing out of nowhere. Tachihara asks the psychic to help her find Kigata Rei, but the psychic cautions against it - apparently those who look for him end up disappearing in mysterious circumstances.
Later, Tachihara receives a bizarre phonecall in true Ring style ;-) It seems to be from the psychic, and she is trying to tell Tachihana she is in danger. She goes to see the medium to make sure she's all right: after a bit of nosing around, Tachihara finds an address book with Kigata Rei's phone number in it - and also the psychic herself, lying face down dead in a huge pile of nensha Polaroids - one of which she is still clutching, and which fills Tachihara with utter horror when she sees what's on it.
In the meantime, Hideki, although avoiding newspapers entirely, still seems to be receiving mystical missives from the beyond: he receives a forewarning that one of his students, Sayuri, is going to become the sixth victim of the college murderer. He runs all the way over to her house, and even speaks to her - but she disappears in front of his face. When he hears her screaming from a distance, he runs to her aid and thinks he has prevented her murder - until a great big patch of blood appears on her chest and he realises that yet again, he is too late to save someone whose death he has foreseen.
So Hideki does the only thing he can do: he goes to visit Tachihara to ask for her help. He is traumatised by the notion that not only does he know about these awful things happening, the worst part is that he can't do a thing to stop it - even when he's there. It's then that the awful truth about the last Polaroid picture the psychic ever made is revealed by Tachihara: it's a picture of Hideki's face, featured as a future obituary in the newspaper of terror.
Tachihara and Hideki together set out to seek others who are receiving the same premonitions, as Hideki is already marked for death - although can it really help them to find others in the same predicament, and worse? He's losing control and has already started to find himself doing automatic writing - even covering his own blackboard in college with predictions of death. Now Tachihara has found Rei Kigata's address, will they be able to get any help from him and somehow save Hideki from his preordained destiny?
Premonition does occasionally play like an extended medley of the camera, video and newspaper scenes from Ring. The parallels are far too numerous - including the staff list itself - to make it fairly unavoidable that the two movies will be compared, and of the two, Premonition will be found to be the lesser of the two. That's a real shame, because it really is an excellent movie - a nicely rounded, pleasing piece with sturdy internal logic and a few really unusual ideas, which Tsuruta actually developed fully this time around.
At the end of the day, the only thing about the movie that is slightly disappointing is Hiroshi Mikami's poor performance. Sure, the plot feels a bit histrionic at times, but to Tsuruta's credit the film still retains an intriguing and creepy feel and use of imagery throughout, and some really, seriously scary scenes.
Premonition is nowhere near the same league as Ring, but it's the closest thing to true horror Norio Tsuruta has produced to date, and it's an enjoyable, entertaining, well-paced movie with enough unique and effective horror elements to recommend it.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Sex: 1/10 - a snog is all you get
Kairo Moments: 1
Ju-on Moments: 1
Ring Moments: (wiggles fingers) this many
The Shuugo Oshinari Eyeballs of Doooom: looks painful!
Litres of Tomato Ketchup: some CGI splotches and one small squirt from a hamburger
Films in a Similar Style: Ring, Ju-on, Dark Water
*** Highly recommended! ***
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Snowblood Apple Filmographies
http://www.j-horror.com/ - official site of the J-Horror Theatre series
http://www.walkerplus.com/phtml/all/movie/flyer/index.cgi?file=mo2901_f1.jpg - flyer for the Japanese release artwork
http://www.sarudama.com/movies/yogen.shtml - Scott Foutz's succinct summary and insight on the movie
http://www.hollywoodgothique.com/premonition2004.html - this review at Hollywood Gothique pretty much echoes my sentiments
http://slasherpool.starbase.se/htm/reviews/premonition.php - a very positive review at Slasherpool
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0419280/ - IMDB page for the movie
http://www.cdjapan.co.jp/detailview.html?KEY=DDCZ-1087 - combined OST for both Yogen and Kansen at CDJapan
http://www.horrorview.com/Premonition.htm - a rave review at Horrorview
http://www.filmfreakcentral.net/dvdreviews/premonition.htm - in the interests of representing opposing opinions, FilmFreakCentral weren't quite so taken with it as we were ;-)
http://www.horrorchannel.com/dread/index.php?name=Reviews&req=showcontent&id=371 - and a review finally that also thought Hiroshi Mikami was hammy ;-)
http://suicidegirls.com/words/Premonition+director+Norio+Tsuruta/ - interview with Norio Tsuruta about the movie at Suicide Girls (WARNING: site not work-safe, although the interview is)