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"),
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
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.
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?