Infection (aka Kansen, 2004) Movie Review

“Kansen” is the first release in the J-Horror series, a 6-film package deal that was the brainchild of producer Takashige Ichise, who saw the sudden surge in popularity for Asian horror and decided to cash in. Ichise’s bright idea was to gather up Japan’s most famous horror directors and give them money to make their own films. Together, the movies would make the J-Horror series, a package that would then be sold to distributors around the word. The first two to be finished and release were “Kansen” and “Yogen” (aka “Premonition”), with installments by bigger names like Kiyoshi Kurosawa (“Kairo”), Hideo Nakata (“Ringu”), and “Juon: The Grudge” creator Takashi Shimizu to follow.

At first, one is hardpressed to understand just what “Kansen” is. Its English title, “Infection”, would seem to indicate a film in the vein of “Outbreak”, but it’s also billed as horror. The result is a film that seems to be parts hospital thriller, parts ghost story, and all convoluted mess with no decipherable idea. In the beginning, the film feels like a dysfunctional version of “E.R.”, with doctors and nurses you wouldn’t trust to treat your sick hamster. There is the somber older nurse, the incompetent young nurse, the bitchy nurse; as for the doctors, there is the overwhelmed one, the selfish one, and the crazy one that spends all of the film stitching up a pan of flesh upstairs somewhere.

Halfway into “Kansen”, the hospital’s administrator (aka the creepy one) shows up at about the same time a dead body covered in green ooze arrives. But wait, the green ooze plot won’t have anything to do with the movie until the 40-minute mark. For its first 40 minutes, “Kansen” seems content to follow the hospital’s staff as they attempt vainly to deal with their deteriorating situation. The hospital is falling apart, the doctors aren’t getting paid and neither are the nurses, many of whom have already quit. Understaffed, overworked, and out of patience, things get worst when, due to negligence, a patient dies in their care. After much debate, the staff decides to cover up the death, and that’s when the guy with the green ooze enters the picture.

Once the ooze begins to spread to other parts of the hospital, “Kansen” takes on a more conventional sci-fi narrative. After one of the nurses fall prey to the infection, the rest aren’t far behind. And because these are all archetypes and nowhere being real people, there is little sympathy for their plight. “Kansen’s” only real draw is writer/director Masayuki Ochiai (“Hypnosis”), who proves to be a visually talented director. Ochiai keeps things interesting with his selection of camera angles and atmospheric ghost moments, such as when an old woman appears at the hospital to visit her son — the one the staff just killed and are covering up.

Almost all of the film’s standout moments are related to the faux ghost story, which never amounts to much, and are cast aside — and re-inserted — at odd intervals without any semblance of logic. One can’t help but get the feeling that “Kansen” was supposed to be a ghost movie when someone decided to make it an “X-Files”-type film, complete with host jumping green ooze that takes over the body and mind of its victims. Or perhaps it was an “X-Files”-type film when someone decided to make it a ghost movie. In any case, the lack of focus in the narrative dooms “Kansen” to being a jumbled mess that simply has no idea what it wants to be, and instead decided to just be everything.

Much of the second half breaks down into scenes of the green ooze infecting and then killing someone, the doctors wanting to call for help, and the creepy administrator convincing them otherwise, and repeat. The acting is sub par, which isn’t a surprise as all the characters are basic archetypes with limited room for growth, thanks to a script that seems to be going for weird for weirdness sake. As a result, the creepy doctor stays creepy, the overwhelmed doctor stays overwhelmed, and the selfish doctor stays selfish. And let us not forget the crazy doctor, who — well, you get the idea.

As the first in the J-Horror series, “Kansen” ultimately feels like what it is — that is, a packaged idea. The script doesn’t seem to have been well thought out, leading to a Third Act that just doesn’t seem interested in finding a coherent, or even semi-coherent, ending. There are about 5 or 6 possible endings, but Ochiai doesn’t seem to be able to pick one, so instead gave us every possible ending he could think of. Even so, the film still leaves a lot of unanswered questions and, one suspect, this is the case because the movie never knew what the hell it was doing, or going, in the first place.

One can only hope that the rest of the J-horror series will be a little more coherent, or at least one complete movie instead of a dozen ideas crammed into one 95-minute movie. Then again, considering the original impetus for these films, and producer Takashige Ichise’s very commercial approach to their marketing, I’m not sure if it’s entirely a surprise that the first film released in the series doesn’t quite seem as well-thought out as it should be. When you pre-package six films, is it any wonder there are one or two (or, God help us, three) stinkers in the bunch?

Masayuki Ochiai (director) / Ryoichi Kimizuka (story), Masayuki Ochiai (screenplay)
CAST: Shiro Sano …. Kiyoshi Akai
Koichi Sato …. Dr. Akiba
Masanobu Takashima …. Dr. Uozumi

Buy Infection on DVD