Though a bit bogged down by the superficiality of constraints of the police procedural, Creepy (Kuripi: Itsuwari no rinjin), the new movie by Japanese horror auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa, features enough below the plot to be worth recommending. The film follows obsessive police detective Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima), who has given up detective work after a hostage situation goes awry. He decides to turn to teaching criminology as a professor at a university. Outside the rules of detective work, life becomes challenging for this policeman who cannot seem to shake his calling. When he sticks his nose into a cold case involving a missing persons case, he comes to realize how close horror can hit home.
Takakura and his wife Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi), not to mention their big dog Max, have moved to a suburb near the university. Directly, the “creep” in the film’s title (full translation: Creepy: Fake Neighbor) refers to their neighbor Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa) who lives with his teenage daughter and — he says — his infirm wife. Indirectly, the film’s title refers to the unknowable gulf between people, even those closest to you.
Nishino’s creep factor is played intriguingly by Kagawa. With each appearance, he never plays the neighbor the same way. One moment he seems like a man with developmental issues, cowering like a child in fear of his new neighbors’ big, playful dog. On another occasion he acts like a coarse playboy making an imposing pass on Yasuko. As with many of the movies of Kurosawa, who co-wrote the script with Chihiro Ikeda based on a novel by Yutaka Maekawa, there’s something brewing below the surface of this performance. It never feels like Nishino is schizophrenic. Nishino comes across as more of a metaphor on the idea of snap judgments on people’s multi-dimensional personalities.
Kurosawa’s films often play on a meta level that speak to bigger social problems. The isolation of the residents that populate Takakura’s new neighborhood speaks to the modern problem of what one looses when disconnecting from society, especially one’s neighbors. If it seems like a bit of a stretch, it’s only because the film sprawls for too long, squeezing in clichés of the police procedural that many fans of the genre may have seen done better many times before.
Too many holes in logic weaken Creepy. Along with Nishino’s story is a subplot where Takakura feels drawn back to detective work. The ease of Takakura becoming obsessed with a cold case involving the disappearance of a mother, father and son feels like a setup. As he probes deeper, he learns the only family member still around is the daughter, Saki (Haruna Kawaguchi), who was uncooperative with police during the active investigation. After Takakura tracks her down and questions her himself, certain convenient puzzle pieces start falling into predictable place.
Sometimes the film follows procedural clichés that are a bit tiresome, like scenes where Saki is questioned, which plays as if connecting dots to move the plot forward. Then there’s an incident featuring a police officer who responds to a scene with a convenient lack of backup. There are also some implausible jumps in detective work leading to advantageous, if implausible, conclusions. During another scene, Takakura arrives at the house of the missing family and states, “Feels like a crime scene,” though nothing beyond the house being empty seems genuinely out of place. But the consolation to that aforementioned line comes when the camera tilts over Takakura, and nearly turns upside down like some cinematic exclamation point. It’s startling details like these that redeem the film.
Early in Creepy, as a colleague at the university introduces Takakura to the missing persons case, there is a seemingly in congruent scene that unfolds in the background: unbeknownst to the professors, through a window, some students push around a chubby kid. This is one of the rare, witty moments in the film that calls attention to the bigger story of distance in intimacy. The professors are demonstrating the sort of ignorance that results from a refusal to see when one becomes absorbed in selfish obsession. When Takakura’s wife mentions how creepy their neighbor behaves, Takakura at first says, those are the ones you don’t have to worry about, adding it’s the ones that seem normal that are the most dangerous, yet little does he really know…
Moments like these, however, arrive fleetingly in a movie by a filmmaker who has proven he can produce more primally uncomfortable horror films. The more ambiguous earlier Kurosawa films Doppelgänger (2003) and Charisma (1999) still stand as some of his greatest works. Here, there is a sense of procedural lack of logic that derails some of the film’s authentically creepy moments. Creepy is sometimes suspenseful and eerie but too drawn out, featuring too many plot holes and even a rather bloodless confrontation, that keep distant any genuine creep factor.