“Cross Fire” was produced by the Japanese Toho studios, best known for the classic, enduring “Godzilla” series. This attempt at trying something a little different with the horror genre, as opposed to simply churning out another “Ringu” clone, was directed by Shusuke Kaneko, who brought the “Gamera” series roaring back to life in the 1990s, as well as giving fans “Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack” in 2001. As may be expected, Kaneko applies much of the same formula here, although in addition to throwing in a barrage of special effects and spectacular set pieces, he painstakingly creates a set of complex characters with surprisingly genuine emotions.
The film is based on a pair of popular novels by Miyuki Miyabe, who also worked on the screenplay and gives the proceedings some extra depth, and in fact the moments of romance and angst are every bit as memorable as the explosive action scenes. Whilst the film does occasionally lose its focus by attempting to handle several narrative strands at once, it stands out as one of the better Japanese horrors of recent years. This is mainly due to the fact that it is one of the few which takes the trouble to create realistic, sympathetic characters and to investigate interesting themes, primarily the nature of revenge, and exactly what it takes to turn a warm, caring human being into a cold hearted monster.
The film centers upon Junko (Akiko Yada, from the “Ringu” TV series and spin off “Rasen”), a young woman who has been cursed since childhood with Cross Fire: the ability to set things aflame using only the power of her mind. The side effects of this condition have left her a shy social outcast; that is, until she meets and falls in love with Tada (Hideaki Ito, recently in “The Princess Blade”), a kind-hearted man at the office where she works. Their gentle and burgeoning romance is rocked when Tada’s younger sister is killed by a callous group of young thugs who have been responsible for a series of murders which they have filmed as snuff movies.
After the leader of the gang escapes justice as a result of his rich father, Junko is unable to control her rage, and unleashes her powers to exact a terrible revenge. With this act, she becomes hunted by the police, and finds apparent solace after meeting a group of fellow psychics called ‘The Guardians’, who use their powers to hunt criminals. However, all may not be as it seems, and Junko finds herself being dragged into a dark world of predator and prey that threatens to harness her ability for a more deadly purpose.
One of the reasons why “Cross Fire” works so well is Kaneko’s skillful direction. As well as horror, he manages to mix romance, drama and elements of the police thriller into a coherent, engrossing whole. Although some aspects of the film are somewhat underdeveloped, the narrative is complicated and fascinating, and offers a number of interesting developments without having to rely on the kind of ‘big twist’ plot denouement which is currently so fashionable.
Kaneko keeps things moving quickly, and his investment in Junko means that the viewer genuinely cares what happens to her and how she develops. This viewer attachment to the main character allows Kaneko to work in a number of effective, quieter scenes amongst the furious bursts of action, and even a few moments of unexpected poetry that are all too rare in horror cinema. The film actually features one of the most touching shots of any genre in recent years, a moment when Junko, who has shunned human contact all her life, has her first kiss with Tada, an act which causes her Cross Fire to flare up a beautiful bubble in the midst of a shower of melting snowflakes.
Junko is indeed the soul of the film, and its narrative focuses upon her development as a human being. Kaneko uses her growth to explore the nature and necessity of revenge, and its effects on those involved, and although this is obviously a theme which has been revisited countless times, he still manages to imbue the film with a feeling of sadness and poignancy. Whilst some may prefer their horror more straightforward and less infused with angst, these elements give “Cross Fire” an added dimension, as well as a sense of tragedy that reaches beyond the usual constraints of the genre.
Akiko Yada gives an excellent performance as Junko, perfectly catching both her initial shyness and later, rage. The rest of the performances are also excellent, especially Yu Yoshizawa as Kido, a fellow psychic who leads Junko to the vigilante group. Very few characters in the film are painted in simple black and white, and there is a real, nicely handled moral complexity to the plot which adds an element of welcome maturity to the film.
As well as giving the film a much appreciated human aspect, Kaneko also delivers on a visceral level, as there a great number of inventive action scenes. These build in intensity through the film, reflecting Junko’s gradual release and acceptance of her powers, before erupting in a climatic inferno of a battle. The special effects fly thick and fast, with some very well done incinerations and some notable nasty moments when Kaneko turns her rage on the murderous thugs. There is definitely enough here to satisfy genre fans, and the film should in no way be associated with the recent flood of ‘slow burn’ horrors which have crept from the East.
Overall, “Cross Fire” comes highly recommended as a superior and exciting Japanese horror film. It succeeds on different levels, both in terms of visceral entertainment and in having a well-crafted, moving heart which burns brightly in a genre so often devoid of emotional depth.
Shusuke Kaneko (director) / Kota Yamada, Masahiro Yokotani, Shusuke Kaneko (screenplay), Miyuki Miyabe (novels)
CAST: Akiko Yada …. Junko Aoki
Hideaki Ito …. Tada Kazuki
Ryuuji Harada …. Yasuaki Makihara
Masami Nagasawa …. Kaori Kurata
YÃ» Yoshizawa …. Kouichi Kido
Hidenori Tokuyama …. Masaki Kogure