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Original Title:

Japan 2006

Mystery, Thriller

Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Koji Yakusho
Manami Konishi
Tsuyoshi Ihara
Riona Hazuki
Jo Odagiri
Hiroyuki Hirayama
Ryo Kase
Kaoru Okunuki
Hironobu Nomura
Ikuji Nakamura

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Story: Detective Yoshioka (Koji Yakusho) is called to a crime scene. A woman has been drowned in a puddle of salt water. The police collects some evidence and soon finds a finger print. However, it turns out that the finger print is Yoshioka's. As the police assumes that the Detective just forgot to wear gloves when investigating the crime scene, no one longer cares about this discovery. Still, as his investigation progresses, Yoshioka finds more and more proof that indicate that he is the killer. But if he is, why can't he remember anything about it?
The case gets more muddled when another victim is found, again drowned in salt water. The culprit is soon apprehended and the police treats him as a serial killer. Strangely, the culprit only confesses one murder, and soon after, there is another victim, which got killed under the same cirumstances as the rest of the victims. For the police this case becomes more and more puzzled, while Yoshioka is suddenly haunted by the ghost of a woman in red (Riona Hazuki). Will she leave him in peace, if he solves the riddle of her death? And why is there always a picture of an old house he saw 15 years ago, coming to his mind?

Review: Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa proves once again that he has a very special style of making movies. This was already appearant in "Pulse" and "Cure", but while it certainly was attracting in these films, Kurosawa just seems to have fallen a bit too much in love with his own style of making movies these days. Therefore, we actually don't get anything new from him. Once again he takes a rather simple story, this time it's a detective story, and transfers it into a metaphysical world, that is alienating and leaves much space for interpretation. Sure thing, that this is reason enough for many critics to applaude Kurosawa and congratulate him for another stroke of genius, but he won't get as much goodwill from me. What's making this movie so frustrating in the end, apart from a very sedate pacing, is the fact, that we feel strongly reminded of former works of the director.

Again, Kurosawa gives us some insight into an individual, that has secluded himself from the outside world and is about to drift into madness. Guilt, loneliness and an apocalyptic scenerio, which, however, takes place in the mind of the character rather than in the real world, are again motives that the director makes heavy use of. Especially the way in which the world as we know it collides with a supernatural one, is very Kurosawa-like. This goes even that far, that I already knew after the first half of the film, who the director of "Retribution" was, even though I didn't know it before. The handwriting is impossible to be mistaken as anyone's else, which also depicts the problem. If you have already seen a few movies of the director, you won't find anything new here. The characters in Kurosawa's movies are all very reserved and are plagued by their own inner demons, which eventually shift their way of perception. Solitariness and the emotional coldness they get to experience from society are again motives, the director builds his film on, until we eventually even get to see a similar postapocalyptic picture of empty streets like we did in "Pulse".

The first half of the movie the director naturally uses as an introduction, which is when "Retribution" still looks like a nice detective thriller. With a few horror elements thrown in. This part is quite appealing and the viewer actually asks himself what Yoshioka's memory gap is all about. Did he really kill someone, and if that's the case, why would he do something like that?
Kurosawa draws the collapse of Yoshioka's character and his road into madness with the tools of well-known horror movies, yet always manages to alter them the way that they seem very surreal. For instance, we get to see a ghost of a woman with long black hair, wearing a red dress, which definitely won't win the director any originality points among horror fans, yet this picture of the woman isn't used in the sense of your typical J-Horror movie. The woman isn't really frightening - although there are in fact a few scenes that can make your blood run cold, because of their surrealism - but she instead sketches the journey of the main protagoist into madness and despair. Therefore, if there is something you have to give the film credit for, then it surely is the way it combines a detective thriller with a horror movie.

Still, the flaws are all too apparent to be ignored, and they actually deprive the film of much of its attraction. We may be accompanying Yoshioka on his trip into the creepy depths of his soul, but we never really care about it, as it is impossible for us to relate to his character. He is a withdrawn guy and doesn't seem to be able to engage into any social relationship. The scenes with his girlfriend Harue are good proof of this. Most of her questions he just answers with a simple "Hmmm". He even says goodbye that way - even when she informs him, that she won't be able to visit him for a couple of weeks. We just feel alienated by the detective, as well as it is the case with the world that unfolds before our eyes from the movie's second half onwards. The motives and the way Kurosawa approaches his films are so easily recognizable, that I was already aware of the movie's big twist pretty much at the beginning. That's frustrating, as it just demonstrates what I already stated: The director is so self-satisfied with his work that he doesn't even bother to show us anything new from him. Thus, we have the feeling that we've seen all of this before already.

Also really annoying is the extremely slow pacing, which crawls into the movie through the second half. The film inevitably loses structure, as we accompany Yoshioka into a world of insanity where he has to face his inner demons. But sadly this isn't accomplished by the use of some nice tricks (and I'm not talking about special effects), but we instead have to watch the detective collecting evidence at different locations about the ghost that terrorizes him. And he does so in slow motion. This becomes incredibly tedious with time.
However, it's interesting that Kurosawa uses very long shots at some points. Some of them are even 5 minutes long without one single cut. Unfortunately, such scenes and editing also doesn't help the film to get a better a pacing or diminish the big emotional distance the audience has towards the events on screen.
Koji Yakusho is a great actor, who as already participated in many of Kurosawa's movies, and if you think about it you maybe can't even come up with one where he didn't play at least a small role. He has a refreshingly subtle and reserved way of playing his characters, which nonetheless can't change the fact that we are never able to sympathize with Yoshioka.

"Retribution", as it is the case with most of Kurosawa's works, has a lot of material that demands to be interpreted. The surreal world that is drawn still just proves to be too characteristic for the director, and thus can't deliver anything surprising. Even the finale, which sees us off into the credits screen pretty abruptly, was to be expected. For those who aren't already that familiar with the works of this director, this film might be quite interesting, but the rest of us will have to ask in disappointment, why Kurosawa doesn't finally come up with something new? For me Kiyoshi Kurosawa is one of the most overrated director's of Japan and "Retribution" is evidence for that once again. Because of the emotional distance you will feel towards the events and characters all of the time, it is really hard to be entertained by "Retribution". The slow pacing doesn't change that either, and so the bottom line is simply: Only for fans of the director.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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