Shinya Tsukamoto is perhaps best known for the 1988 art-house horror hit "Tetsuo" and its slick 1992 follow-up, "Tetsuo 2 - Body Hammer". The director's films have all dealt in similar themes -- exploring the psychological issues surrounding the individual vs. the city and the human body and its relationship with technology (a now standard theme in modern anime); stark, nightmare imagery that allegorises complex ideas has defined a body of work that places Tsukamoto's film's well outside the mainstream of international horror cinema and prefigured the new wave of Asian horror directors, who have since made a big splash internationally, by at least a decade. His new forty-nine minute short, "Haze" is his latest, most ambitious attempt to explore the inner turmoil of contemporary consciousness, utilising the benefits afforded by the new Digital Video technology. Like many modern auters such as David Lynch, Tsukamoto is beguiled by the creative control, speed and ease with which films can be made with DV equipment: not only does Tsukamoto star in and direct the movie, he also produced, wrote and edited it -- as well as overseeing the art direction and the photography.
"Haze" is indeed a thoroughly personal project, as evidenced by the fact that the Tsukamoto is on-screen for nearly the entire forty-nine minutes of the movie, sharing screen-time only with the actor Kaori Fuji ("Tokyo Fist"; "Ju-on: The Grudge") in this uncompromising illustration of an individual tortured by claustrophobia, isolation and physical torment. Raw and brutal and full of the imaginatively horrific imagery that has come to be associated by Tsukamoto's cinema, the film strips away all affectations and unnecessary clutter in terms of both plot and setting. This is minimalist horror at its starkest and most relentless: exploring the terrors of the human psyche with a dark and lyrical forcefulness. The unnamed protagonist (played by Tsukamoto himself) awakes to find himself trapped in an unlighted, claustrophobic concrete tunnel with barely enough space to move; he has no memory, no identity and no idea how he came to be in this strange predicament. Pretty soon, the nerve jangling body horror begins: the individual is tormented by a painful stomach wound, he is forced to endure a rusty metal pipe being scraped across his teeth in order to get through a tight concrete corridor, a stone hammer periodically springs from the wall to wallop him in the head and rusty six-inch nails jab into him when he falls down a shaft. Then the hellish visions begin: a group of men clawing at their skin before being horrifically dismembered, and a miniature version of himself clamped to the wall! The lightless isolation is relieved somewhat when he finds another person -- a woman, without a name or a memory, like himself -- in a small opening surrounded with rotting body-parts; and the pair find themselves wading through a bloody ditch full of dismembered limbs towards a hatch from which daylight can just be discerned.
This simple but powerful premise leads to a tragic, poetic conclusion that leaves the viewer to interpret what has just passed before them. With a short running time of forty-nine minutes TERRA make the DVD a worthwhile purchase for fans of Asian horror by including a considerable supply of worthwhile extras. As well as several trailers, a photo gallery and filmographies of both stars, we get a substantial 'Making of' featurette which follows the production from the initial set-building, on to the thirteen day shoot, then right through the editing process. The make-up effects and the DV cameras are also considered. The whole featurette runs for around twenty minutes. Next up is a twenty minute interview with Shinya Tsukamoto in-which he considers the development of themes in his films, the advantages of Digital Video over film and the varying audience reactions to the new film. Finally, co-star Kaori Fuji visits the Locarno film festival for the first time in ten years since she last appeared there with Tsukamoto to promote "Tokyo Fist". The actor gives her thoughts on the film and its themes and how they relate to her own life.
Bleak, austere and uncompromisingly a film of ideas despite its gory imagery, "Haze" will not be to everyone's taste but it shows a creative artist still excited by the modern developments in the medium and using them to excitingly original effect. Worth a look.