Retribution (2006)

Genres - Mystery, Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Thriller  |   Run Time - 104 min.  |   Countries - Japan   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Venerable leading man Kôji Yakusho (Babel) collaborates again with Japanese horror pioneer Kiyoshi Kurosawa for Retribution, an opening night hit at the 2007 New York Asian Film Festival. More a supernatural thriller than straight-up J-horror, the film eschews the dark humor of Kurosawa/Yakusho's Doppelganger for the somber, apocalyptic tone of the director's Pulse. For those in tune with his deliberate methods, Kurosawa--holding a quiet shot a bit longer than anticipated, keeping the camera far enough away from his characters that we can fully absorb every dark corner of their surroundings, or focused away from what we want to see--effectively subverts genre expectations. The affect is off-kilter, adding to our growing unease. He knows how to build suspense, and jolt his audience (the siren wail of that ghost might follow one out of the theater), but with Retribution, he also compels us to ponder the alienation engendered by the constant tearing down and building up of modernity, and to consider our personal responsibility toward those lost souls abandoned and forgotten in its tumult. The film generates scares, and empathy for its increasingly unhinged protagonist, but its impact goes deeper than that. Kurosawa offers a compelling detective story, but those expecting linearity or pat answers will be disappointed, because the real questions he is asking are philosophical. At its core, this unsettling work is less about Yoshioka's (Yakusho) guilt than it is about our own.