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cast: Hiroshi Mikami

director: Norio Tsuruta

94 minutes (18) 2004
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Tartan Asia Extreme DVD Region 0 retail
[released 26 June]

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Richard Bowden
Norio Tsuruta, the director of Premonition (aka: Yongen), is one of those journeyman directors who has gained work from the recent reinvigoration of Asian horror. He made Ring 0: Birthday, as well the more interesting Scarecrow (aka: Kakashi, 2001), before the current film appeared in 2004. The result is watchable enough even if, like the other work from this director, it hardly reaches the heights of more celebrated titles from the same source. Despite effective moments, Premonition suffers from an atmosphere more often glum than truly terrifying, as well as structural disorientation in its last part which is at best a welcome change of pace, and at worst slightly incoherent.

Premonition's Twilight Zone-type central idea (even the source story's name, 'The Newspaper Of Terror' is reminiscent of pulp fiction) is of a demonic publication, extracted from the 'Akashic Record': "a place in the cosmos where all events, past and present, are recorded." The Record appears at disconcerting and unsettling moments to those with sight to see it and offers, to those few at least, dire warnings of the future. Its exact provenance is otherwise unexplored except in a couple of hushed conversations, but the ominous paper appears in time to offer its unfortunate recipients the chance, if at some personal cost, to change the destinies of others. In one of the more effective scenes, the Record is first seen and read by one Hideki Satomi (Hiroshi Mikami), a college lecturer who learns of the impending death of his three-year-old daughter. Unable to believe his eyes and use the foresight allowed, the tragedy duly occurs. Flash forward three years and the still distraught and distracted Satomi, now estranged from his wife, finds that the Record reaches him again, this time with news of a murderer's next young victim. Meanwhile his wife's scepticism is overcome when, through a medium, she discovers independent verification of the spectral broadsheet...

After the initial loss and the shock it engenders, for the most part the film now settles down into a mildly disturbing rut of dread and guilt brought by the expected off-world news. Satomi and wife, now brought back together by events, track down the earthly remains of a psychic who previously also had the curse of precognition. Working amongst his (amazingly dust-free and neatly racked) effects to reconstruct his warnings - a process including the use of a video as a moment of shock, a by now stock-in-trade of Japanese horror - the two soon confront the narrative's central dilemma: whether or not to change events, even when to do so inevitably leads to physical deterioration and madness.

The principal suspense factor of the film is thus predicated around the newspaper's expected arrival, which duly arrives in a few suspenseful moments (my favourite is of the publication, hovering like some bird of prey, hunting alongside a desperately speeding car) and there are some spooky moments set in an asylum. But a sustained atmosphere of terror is a difficult trick to pull off, and ultimately the film suffers in comparison to more effective productions with similar, dark atmospheres - like Dark Water for instance. Perhaps recognising this, Premonition's most notable creative decision occurs in the last section of the drama when, as a climax to the piece, Satomi undergoes a series of frightening spatial and temporal experiences. It's rather a shock, especially after the linear construction dominating the rest of the film and, frankly, internal logic is a little strained. But these few minutes, right up to and including the end, have the merit of finishing with a much needed flourish. They also inject something of the disorientation of fear into proceedings, bringing a sustained and necessary sense that the human is at the mercy of a capricious cosmos that was missing previously. And, if this reviewer wished that matters had come to an end more darkly than the final, slightly-too-happy conclusion offered here - bringing up the credits on the abrupt death of a major character for instance, would have been more disturbing - these last, fast-moving scenes offer tension in a way which aptly harks back to the beginning.

The acting of the principals is adequate, even if there are no scenes that require complex emoting. The copy seen by this reviewer was cropped uncomfortably from what looks like an original ratio of 1.85:1. For a genre in which fear often lurks at the edge of the frame, this is an unfortunate choice, especially when some relatively undistinguished cinematography needs all the help it can get. No real extras either. If you're a fan of this sort of cinema, then the overall package will remain entertaining enough, and it will certainly serve until something better comes along.

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