Hitting cinemas across the UK this spring, the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme will showcase some of the best of Japanese cinema, both old and new, that focuses on themes of memories, time, and reflections. Among them, Yoshihiro Nakamura's The Inerasable, an eerie slow-burn mystery horror that examines the imprint of evil on the time and space surrounding it.
Based on the book Zan-e by prolific genre novelist Fuyumi Ono, The Inerasable takes the Japanese concept of kegare, a state of impure defilement that comes from being in contact with death, birth, menstruation or disease, and applies it to a series of locations all surrounding the same apartment building. Yûkon Takeuchi stars as a horror and ghost-story novelist known as I, narrating her story in first person as she receives letters from readers seeking her help to solve the supernatural mysteries plaguing them. Upon receiving a letter from a young woman named Ms Kubo (Ai Hashimoto), I finds her interest piqued by Kubo's concern that her apartment, with its strange sounds and unnerving atmosphere, is host to something sinister.
Despite being released over a decade later, The Inerasable feels like a direct throwback to early 2000s ‘glory days' of J-horror, exploring similar themes of urban decay and the epidemic of modern loneliness, as well as taking liberal cues from Kiyoshi Kurosawa (the master of cursed, brutalist spaces), the viral nature of evil explored in Takashi Shimizu's Ju-On franchise and Hideo Nakata's Ring, and even the true-crime style unravelling of the case seen in Kōji Shiraishi's found footage masterpiece Noroi. Stylistically, the sallow tint and grainy picture is reminiscent of the similarly gloomy Dark Water, which makes sense as both movies share the work of writer Ken'ichi Suzuki.
Nakamura shows a confident restraint with the scares which start slow and subtle; shadows linger like dust in every corner, a child's giggling conceals something far more sinister, and the innocuous soundscape of sweeping on tatami becomes a harbinger of paranoia, a playground for thoughts of unimaginable horror. This refusal to pander to cheap jumpscares and overreliance on shocking musical stings is what makes The Inerasable a prime example of a genre that so many people love for its exploration of the unknowable – Japanese horror has always understood that what you imagine in your mind's eye will always be scarier than anything the screen can capture. I's narration is at once soothing and unsettling, calling to mind the campfire story-telling style of Japan's old kaidan ghost stories (or even their modern-day equivalent, the Honto Ni Atta television series) and lending a meta twist to the tale.
As I and Kubo dig deeper and deeper into the past, a series of unsettling incidents reveal themselves to be connected – whispered rumours of suicides, infanticides, arson and insanity all draw the women closer to a terrifying epicentre of real-life and supernatural horror. A host of characters are enlisted to help, including Kuranosuke Sasaki, who will now be instantly recognizable to Western audiences for his role as the gruff but lovable Captain Akitsu in Godzilla Minus One. However, the simplicity of what made The Ineresable so compelling in the first instance soon gets lost, as the story becomes mired down by a series of plot threads that, rather than unravelling smoothly, lead to a confusing, tangled web that gets more and more caught up in itself the more it tries to explain.
While The Inerasable never reinvents the wheel of Japanese ghost stories, it's a refreshing throwback of style and theme, and an underseen gem to emerge from Japan's – quite frankly – less than impressive horror output of the mid-00s. More than a few scenes are truly bloodcurdling (the Pulse-like image of groaning shadows dragging themselves across the floor especially) and the two female leads are compelling enough in their investigation to keep an audience hooked, despite the narrative not always being fully cohesive. Thanks to the Japan Touring Foundation, The Inerasable may just scare a whole new host of fans.
The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2024 takes place in cinemas around the UK from February 2 to March 31.