Everyone has a scary story to tell. A ghost story, an urban legend, something awful that happened to the person in the flat next door. This is what The Inerasable‘s narrator, a successful nameless author credited as I (Yuko Takeuchi) relies on, writing an ongoing horror serial based on the letters she’s sent by people sharing their real-life experiences.
When she receives a letter from a young student named Kubo (Ai Hashimoto), her interest is piqued. Kubo hears a soft sweeping sound on the floor of an empty room in her one-person flat, and their investigation into the possible causes unearths a seemingly endless history of pain, death and anguish.
Director Yoshihiro Nakamura and screenwriter Ken’ichi Suzuki (working from the novel by Fuyumi Ono) have created something quite special, which is an absolute treat for horror lovers, and anyone lucky enough to catch it at Fantasia Film Festival. Both director and writer worked on the script for Dark Water, and this is certainly one of the best Japanese ghost stories since that modern classic. It’s a mystery as much as it is a horror film, as I and Kubo keep tugging the threads to reveal yet another tragic incident, the spirit of which has lingered to haunt the next person unfortunate enough to encounter it.
A suicide connects to a gruesome murder, an apparent accident occurred on the same spot as a creepy local legend. As these expository flashbacks go further and further into the past, Nakamura shoots each one in increasingly vintage styles, which is not only a wonderful stylistic choice, but keeps the film from becoming a drab never-ending series of unfortunate events.
Putting the pieces of this puzzle together makes for a compelling story, but the film’s musings on the creation of these tales is just as interesting. As one of I’s fellow horror authors explains, everyone has a different story, but the root is the same. Each listener will interpret it in their own way, which creates a multitude of subsequent stories, but trace it back far enough, and you’ll find a common source.
There’s a dry sense of humour here too; when I asks if it’s possible that every tragedy leaves a psychic trace (immediately after the spirit cleansing ceremony for their newly built house), her husband responds “If that were true, nobody would be able to live anywhere.”
But for all the mystery and meta-commentary, The Inerasable is a ghost story, and a damn scary one at that. Nakamura consistently underplays his scares, showing hints of shadows and silhouettes, and plays with classic elements (creepy telephone calls, movement lights turning on suddenly) to great effect. Meanwhile, Kubo’s own experiences with the spirit in her building are put to one side as she joins in the hunt, but we’re never allowed to forget that, once these things latch on, they don’t let go.
When things do get a bit bigger towards the end of the film, some of the effects don’t have quite the same impact, but if you don’t get a chill from the finale, you’re made of stronger stuff than us.
The Inerasable is clever, gripping and very scary, a ghost story that will engage genre fans intellectually while sending a shiver down their spine. Seek it out.