ross 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
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
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
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.