348) Seance (2000) Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa Date Released (DVD): May 2005 Date Seen: October 18, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5
Domestic tranquility is a foreign concept in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's films, one which is constantly undermined by some kind of scabrous psychic discontent that eventually pops so persistently that it simply can't be ignored anymore. Seance shows us the depressing malaise that clings to the ailing relationship of Sato, a sound recording specialist, and Junko, a psychic, (Koji Yakusho and Jun Fubuki) in the film's first half through distant, mid-range photography with a fairly shallow depth-of-focus. Their sheepish grins of encouragement aren't much to write home about until events surrounding a missing girl require them to reassure each other in less discreet ways. Being a Kurosawa film, we're never told about a specific incident or even given a concrete hint as to why they're at their end of their respective ropes trying to keep their marriage together. They just are. Now, unfortunately, that's no longer enough.
Similarly, the elements of the supernatural in the film are not meant to frighten the viewer but rather be seen as hiccups in the characters' daily routines that have almost become naturalized by association. Though the film's ironic series of events cast serious doubts on Junko's supposed supernatural abilities, the banal ghosts that cruelly coincidental sequence of events conjure up are as much a part of the film's murky, ink-smudge landscape as any of the film's extras. An arm lopes over a character's shoulders, a lady in a red dress with no feet drifts slowly out the door of a diner bar, a light pulses on and off in an empty room. These events evoke uneasy titters of laughter* because both Junko and Sato want so badly to dismiss these apparition as part of their everyday surroundings. It's impossible to miss the one time in Seance where a ghost is supposed to be frightening as it's accompanied by mounting Kubrickian silence and the slow creaking of stiff joints. By that point however, the couple both know that their relationship is over, leaving all the other unanswered questions about how or why these spirits manifested themselves through the material objects they did--a hair tie, a napkin--unresolved. Genuinely unsettling.
*Kurosawa encourages this at times in the film--all I'll say is: bagpipes, doppelgangers and kerosene, oh my!--but nearly as much as in, say, Doppelganger, a quirky, messy film that I really need to revisit.