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The Uncanny Universe of Kiyoshi Kurosawa

MUBI Special

Winning the Silver Lion for best director at the Venice Film Festival this year for Wife of a Spy is only the latest accomplishment of the prolific Japanese genre director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Having risen through the ranks of pinku ega and direct-to-video filmmaking in the 1980s, Kurosawa has become an enthralling filmmaker and a rare but deft conduit of genre cinema, able to move from Yakuza tale to thriller, from dark comedy to science fiction and the musical. Brought to international renown during the early 2000s J-horror trend, Kurosawa is too frequently pigeon-holed as a horror filmmaker, when in fact his style of cinema ranges far wider. Fascinated by human nature, especially its capacity for curiosity and malevolence, Kurosawa’s cinema is not so much about ghosts as they are the many permutations of being haunted. Straddling a rare line between mainstream and art-house cinema, Kurosawa’s films are evocative, slow-burning stories replete in an eerie, charged atmosphere in which no one ever seems fully safe. His worlds are always off-kilter: something is amiss, awry, and strange. Curtains flutter ominously, the spaces of houses have the depth of mazes, the past is never truly buried, and empty warehouses—a beloved motif of the filmmaker—are like the abandoned landscape of a dystopian world. It is up to us to determine the source of what has gone wrong: A crime, a death, an errant quest for happiness? Perhaps human civilization itself contains the seeds to transform the world into a spectral one full of unexpected (and sometimes sinister) possibilities. Unforgettably rich in atmosphere and mystery whatever the genre or setting, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s unique oeuvre sees our world for what it may be: The truly uncanny place in which we live.

Doppelganger

Kiyoshi Kurosawa Japan, 2003

A decidedly playful master of many genres, Kiyoshi Kurosawa collaborated again with the great actor Kôji Yakusho (Cure) in a lightly comic version of a very scary idea: one day, a man sees his exact double. Existentially terrifying, perhaps, but also… potentially advantageous? A darkly sly gem.

Tokyo Sonata

Kiyoshi Kurosawa Japan, 2008

If any movie changed the perception that Kiyoshi Kurosawa only excelled at horror films, this is it: a domestic drama—the hallowed realm of Ozu—but reinvented. A prizewinner at Cannes, he scored his biggest hit yet with an unusual blend of redemptive family story, dystopian dread, and deadpan humor.

Creepy

Kiyoshi Kurosawa Japan, 2016

Kiyoshi Kurosawa taps into his skill with policier and horror films for this thriller cleverly blending domestic vulnerability and unsolved crime. Throw credibility out the window and embrace the film’s tingling sense of unease and the uncanny as the story twists and turns.

Beautiful New Bay Area Project

Kiyoshi Kurosawa Japan, 2013

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a deft practitioner of almost any genre, including martial arts! His action film is typically but compellingly strange, intertwined with the industrial development of the Japanese waterfront. The fights, when they come, have a sense of realism that is as unusual as it is bracing.

Penance

Kiyoshi Kurosawa Japan, 2012

Kiyoshi Kurosawa has no fear of cinema’s many shapes and sizes, and his version of a television miniseries takes full advantage of its possibilities for storytelling. The result is a genre-bending, deeply immersive saga of a crime and a curse that follows four girls’s divergent paths into adulthood.

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