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   |     review    |     notes      |     availability     | Retribution (2006)
Koji Yakusho in Retribution
  Japanese: 叫(さけび)  
  Year: 2006  
  Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa  
  Producer: Taka Ichise  

Kiyoshi Kurosawa


Koji Yakusho, Manami Konishi, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Kaoru Okanuki, Hiroyuki Hirabayashi, Inuji Nakamura, Joe Odagiri, Ryo Kase, Riona Hazuki

The Skinny:

A world-weary police detective discovers that he’s the prime suspect in a bizarre murder case. This atmospheric supernatural thriller gets off to a promising start, but ultimately finds itself bogged down in too much opaque symbolism to deliver a satisfying narrative that matches the promise of its opening reels.

Review by Calvin McMillin: In the initial moments of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Retribution, we are made witness to a horrible crime as an unidentified woman in red is viciously drowned in a shallow puddle by an unseen assailant. Perhaps best known to Western audiences for his role in the international hit Shall We Dance?, Koji Yakusho takes on a very different role here, starring as Yoshioka, the burned-out detective assigned to investigate this perplexing murder case. But from the get-go, Yoshioka learns that this isn’t just another routine assignment.

Within moments of arriving on the scene of the crime, a number of clues start to pile up - all of which point towards Yoshioka himself as the prime suspect. A stray button near the deceased seems to match one missing from Yoshioka’s black jacket. Even worse, his fingerprints match those found on the body of the victim. While most of his colleagues chalk up this last bit of incriminating evidence as nothing more than Yoshioka’s carelessness when it comes to proper police procedure, these alarming discoveries raise some serious concerns for our protagonist. Is someone trying to frame him? Did he actually commit this crime while in some sort of temporary fugue state? Or is something supernatural afoot? In the world Kiyoshi Kurosawa presents us here, it’s entirely possible that any, all, or none of these solutions are correct.

Yoshioka’s private mission to rule himself out as a suspect suffers a number of setbacks even as he gets closer to the truth. To make matters worse, a couple of hauntingly similar murders occur and at least one of his colleagues – second banana Miyaji (Tsuyoshi Ihara) – gets more than a little suspicious of his partner. And let’s not forget that Yoshioka begins to see a female ghost in a vivid red dress (Riona Hazuki) everywhere he goes. Haunting his every move, the spirit makes it patently clear that she wants retribution for her own death (hence the film's title). But is she real, or is she the psychological manifestation of Yoshioka’s guilty conscience? The answers to those questions are more complicated than you might expect.

But the ghost isn’t the only woman on the detective’s radar. While his professional life teeters on the brink, the ever dour Yoshioka still has a personal life to manage, as he boasts a beautiful, young, and somewhat elfin girlfriend named Harue (Manami Konishi), who for some odd reason, always seems to have someplace else to be when he needs her the most. Perhaps she’s married to someone else. Or maybe she’s a call girl with a long list of clients. Whatever the truth (and it is revealed), she seems to be the one constant in Yoshioka’s quickly deteriorating life. It would be an awful shame if something happened to her, now wouldn’t it?

As supernatural thrillers go, Retribution is a mixed bag. An engrossing first act quickly begins to unravel once the supernatural angle is officially confirmed. Of course, that’s pretty much expected considering all the players involved both in front of and behind the camera (not to mention the marketing of the film), but it seems like Retribution becomes totally unmoored from any semblance of logic once this turn is made.

Aspects of the plot call to mind moments in Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy, as that film’s protagonist quickly found himself wracking his brain to find out what he could have possibly done to deserve such horrible treatment from his unseen nemesis. Retribution contains a similar search for answers on the part of Yoshioka, but what he finds by story’s end is a double whammy that a) doesn’t make much sense and b) isn’t given the appropriate cinematic treatment (let’s just say it’s an egregious violation of the “Show, don’t tell” rule). Visually and atmospherically, Retribution continues to engage, but from a narrative standpoint, the film is a total mess by its head-scratcher of an ending.

While the beginning of the film plays more like a cut-and-dried detective story, the later portions of Retribution feel more like an avant-garde art film, as it becomes less coherent narratively and increasingly steeped in symbolism. While I’m unclear if the filmmaker is trying to make a statement about the state of modern Japan, issues of responsibility and collective guilt, or the relative merits of retributive violence, I do applaud any filmmaker for trying to explore such thought-provoking ideas in a genre film. Ultimately, however, I found Kurosawa’s experiment to be only marginally more satisfying than the often terrible, more blatantly commercial horror films that have come out of Japan in the wake of the Ring and Ju-on franchises. Neither a standout of the so-called “J-Horror” genre nor a film that transcends it, Retribution is an intriguing, but fatally flawed experiment in terror. (Calvin McMillin, 2008)

Notes: • The alternate ending and the “Making of the Alternate Ending” featurette included on the Region 1 DVD sheds some light on the film’s ambiguous final shot.  

Region 1 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 2.0
English and Spanish Subtitles
Alternate Ending, Making Of Alternate Ending, Q&A with Filmmakers, Trailers

 Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen