The Inerasable Terrifies Us Even as it Explores Why
Fantasia Film Festival 2016
Yoshihiro Nakamura has shown an interest in the dark before, but for Western audiences he’s best known for a trio of festival hits exploring the shared importance of music (Fish Story), a Beatles-related conspiracy (Golden Slumber), and the power of pastry-fueled friendship (A Boy and His Samurai). All three are utterly fantastic and worth seeking out, but while he’s kept busy in the six years since directing eight more films none of them have found similar success in the U.S. His latest film, The Inerasable, should hopefully change that as it offers a literate, beautifully-paced, and terrifying look at the ghosts that haunt us. As of right now it’s also the best horror film I’ve seen this year.
A novelist referred to only as I (Yuko Takeuchi) takes a job crafting stories out of readers’ letters purporting to share experiences with the supernatural, but one story piques her interest beyond the rest. Kubo (Ai Hashimoto) is a recent college grad who’s hearing noises in her new apartment and catches a glimpse of something moving into the shadows. I and Kubo investigate the building’s history and discover the sounds have had an effect on past tenants too, even driving one to suicide, but as they dig deeper the truth behind the ghostly presence reveals a darkness spanning decades of pain and suffering.
The structure of Nakamura’s film, adapted from Fuyumi Ono’s novel, is different than most ghost stories, but it’s no less terrifying for it. Kubo encounters some creepiness in her flat, but much of the film moves us through various other events from the past as she and I uncover details about the building, the land, and the people who’ve lived and died there. These individual stories come to life as flashbacks, often complete with changes to the cinematography accompanying the shifts in time period, and while some of the stores are more effective than others the variety offers an unsettling mix of events and imagery.
There’s a risk here that the film could begin feeling like an anthology of sorts, but each segment fits as a piece to the growing puzzle of the present-day haunting. Some connections are immediately clear while others only fall into place later on, but all of them work to explore the reasons behind our beliefs in ghostly presences as well as our desires for them to be true. Ghost stories typically feature vague and wobbly details, and our shared tales can often be traced back to the same sources.
Our reactions to specific events, particularly those involving death and violent emotion, create ghosts both literal and imagined. I wonders at one point if resentment and bitterness can persist in the air to make spaces inhospitable, but her husband wisely points out if that were true no one could live anywhere. The film’s interest in exploring the history behind the hauntings as well as the reasons why we want them to be real recalls the terrific Legend of Hell House (as well as Richard Matheson’s source novel, Hell House), and it’s an approach that most modern films have neglected.
The Inerasable is less interested in traditional scares and jumps than it is in crafting and building an overwhelming sense of terror and unease, and it manages that aim with tremendous success. It’s only in final act where Kubo and I take active roles in a frightening scenario, and the preceding groundwork pushes them beautifully towards a conclusion to their search for answers. Stay through the credits though as Nakamura saves one last reveal for viewers designed to leave a lasting chill.