According to a duplicitous folklorist in Tetsuya Nakashima’s anarchic horror film It Comes (来る, Kuru), monsters aren’t real. People made them up so they wouldn’t have to face an unpleasant reality. Farmers who had more children than they could feed invented a monster who came to claim their infants rather than have to live with the reality that they left them in the in the forest to die. As it turns out this monster may actually be “real”, but undoubtedly fuelled by the loneliness of a neglected child whose parents are burdened by their own particular legacy of parental toxicity.
The mother of soon-to-be-married Hideki (Satoshi Tsumabuki) more or less says as much when he brings his fiancée to meet the family at a memorial service for his late grandfather. “Maybe it’s her upbringing” she snidely suggests, remarking that Kana (Haru Kuroki) is “a little gloomy” (which seems like an odd criticism to make of a guest at what is effectively a reenactment of a funeral). A strangely beaming Hideki keeps reassuring his fiancée that she’s “perfect” while she continues to worry about whether she’s a good fit seeing as she never knew a “real” family having been raised by a mother she regards as neglectful. But even at the couple’s wedding it’s clear that Hideki mostly ignores her, so obsessed is he with being the centre of attention. “Is it ever not about you?” one of the fed up guests eventually heckles, but it evidently never is. After setting up his “perfect” life in a “perfect” luxury flat and having a “perfect” baby, Hideki sets up a blog about being the perfect dad and barely helps with their small daughter Chisa driving Kana slowly out of her mind with his narcissistic self-obsession and thinly veiled emotional abuse.
When the ghosts start coming, we might wonder if they reveal the truth or effect a distorted reality that leans in to otherwise unspoken dark thoughts, but Hideki really is as someone puts it all lies. When he’s persuaded to visit an “exorcist” she simply tells him to treat his wife and daughter properly to make the monster go away sending Hideki into a small moment of rage implying that he really does know what he is rather than having “forgotten” a cruel alter ego. In his charmed life, we might even wonder if he made some kind of deal with the devil which would explain his rather vacant smile though as it turns out it’s more like he’s cursed by a forgotten childhood encounter with an ancient forest spirit which hints at a deeper, older evil going all the way back to those farmers and the children they abandoned.
Then again, it seems as if Hideki was rather spoiled as a child leaving him craving both attention and approval, while Kana is still struggling with resentment towards the mother she mainly had to parent herself and is afraid of becoming. Hideki snaps at her that she shouldn’t lose her temper with the baby because children remember, though as it turns out neither of them can really give their full attention to Chisa because of the realities of parenthood which among other things include constant anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. The parents are effectively haunted while cursed by their own toxic parental legacies that they will inevitably pass on to their daughter whether they mean to or not.
It’s much the same for occult writer Nozaki (Junichi Okada) brought in to help solve the case with the help of his girlfriend, Makoto (Nana Komatsu), a bar hostess with psychic abilities. He once persuaded an old girlfriend to have an abortion because he was afraid of becoming attached to something he might eventually lose, and may be in a relationship with Makoto partly because she is unable to bear children for reasons connected to her frustrated love for her icy exorcist sister Kotoko (Takako Matsu) who like Nozaki wilfully distances herself from others to protect herself from the pain of loss. But as another shaman tells him, in a land of darkness where you no longer know right from wrong pain is the only truth.
Nakashima shoots with a thinly veiled irony, vacillating between the ridiculousness of demonic spirits wreaking havoc in a well-appointed Tokyo apartment and the concession that there are indeed monsters in the world and as another infected suggests, they are we. Once again set at Christmas much like World of Kanako, Nakashima’s familial horror juxtaposes the season of goodwill with supernatural violence even as Kotoko marshals every power at her disposal from her roots in Okinawa shamanism to Buddhism and Christianity to hold back the latent evil born of a little girl’s loneliness. Meanwhile, he draws inspiration from classic J-horror and particularly the work of Nobuo Nakagawa in his green mists and swamp-based set piece in which Nozaki finds himself mired in a lake of life and death. Kotoko’s wounded eye and fear of mirrors hark back to Yotsuya Kaidan and the betrayed ghost of Oiwa, herself a victim of a man whose self-involved quest for approval cost her her life. At heart an interrogation of the parental bond the film eventually comes down on the side of family as Nozaki reclaims his frustrated paternity while a little girl dreams of nothing more sinister than a land of omurice.
It Comes screened as part of this year’s Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme.
International Trailer (English subtitles)