Foreboding (2018): Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Hiroshi Takahashi, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Starring: Kaho, Shota Sometani, Masahiro Higashide, Ren Osugi, Eriko Nakamura. Running Time: 140 minutes. Based on a play written by Tomohiro Maekawa.
Fitting for the film given its title and who’s directing, Foreboding is an excellent case study in how to build and keep tension at fever-pitch for over two hours. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s latest work is a powerfully atmospheric examination at the horrors that lurk, not in the places where we can see the danger, but in the dark spots where we simply forget that it’s there.
Horror classicists will very quickly pick up on the movie’s parallels to Invasion of the Body Snatchers; Etsuko, a day worker at a textile factory, notices odd changes in her boss and some coworkers that she’s hard-pressed to explain. When one of her friends suddenly snaps at her father, with whom she’s lived her whole life, she discovers that, somehow, someway, it’s because she no longer has any grasp of what “family” is. She tries to talk with her husband, Tatsuo, about this, but he’s been more taciturn and withdrawn than usual of late, and there’s something decidedly…..off….about his new boss at the hospital, and she immediately suspects this strange, tall man has something to do with what’s happening.
From this starting premise, we are drawn further and further into the horrors of what can happen when the human mind, when our sense of self, starts to decay or is taken from us. It is, in the end, our ideas and our shared agreement of what things are or mean that allow human society to develop and act collectively. It’s the foundation of everything we claim to “know.” So what happens to each of us, and to society in general, when these ideas we possess are just gone? That’s where the real terror lies, not in some outside threat. No slashed throat, no violation of the body, no pools of blood, just the core of what makes you YOU evaporating into thin air.
What could this be an allegory for? Quite a lot- Alzheimer’s, dementia, memory loss, aging, brain damage- all these things are known (and feared) for how they can lead to parts of what you once thought of as irrevocable parts of your person disappearing. I think most people fear this more than death itself, but are loath to admit it to themselves. It’s not pleasant, and worse, there’s no way to return from it, and Foreboding never tries to fool us into thinking there is.
As always with Kurosawa, light usage and camera angles are central to how Kurosawa builds each moment in the film and connects them together. It features a killer score that is perfectly tuned to what each scene requires. Fluttering curtains are a constant motif appearing in the background of many a key scene, their movements gentle yet still conveying the sense that something unseen could be lurking just out of sight.
Its cast provides a solid base as well, with Kaho and Shota Somenati creating a struggling but still affectionate partnership as they try to navigate their way, at first separately but later together, through the coming danger. The highlight, though, is Masahiro Migashide as Matsuka, the strange doctor in a flowing lab coat who may or may not be the reason all this is happening. He finds the right balance of being off-putting and a bit quirky some of the time, and terrifying the rest of the time, without ever breaking or contradicting character, not the easiest of feats to achieve.
Despite the acting and the undeniable technical quality of the film, I ultimately didn’t find Foreboding to be quite as thoroughly excellent as Kurosawa’s 2016 Journey to the Shore, and I think this ultimately boils down to how the third act plays out and how (most of) the narrative questions are answered. As is the case with all too many stories of this sort, the mystery and build-up end up being more compelling than the ultimate payoff, although there is one sequence at the very end that is truly heart-stopping.
No matter its issues though- this is as solid as end-of-the-world metaphors get, and for anyone needing a good horror fix, this is well-worth your time.