Yoko OshimaTaro SuwaHaruhiko KatoYoshio Harada
Another Heaven
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Writer/director: Joji Iida
Keywords: horror, SF, body-swap
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Yosuke Eguchi, Miwako Ichikawa, Takashi Kashiwabara, Yukiko Okamoto, Haruhiko Kato, Naomasa Musaka, Kunihiro Ida, Yosinori Ko, Toshi Shioya, Kai Ato, Yoko Oshima, Taro Suwa, Akira Emoto, Yoshio Harada, Manami Honjo, Kimiko Inui, Takamasa Kidachi, Natsuhiko Kyogoku, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Tomohiro Okada
Format: 132 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0244975/
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 29 November 2010
It feels like TV. Nothing wrong with that, but it does. That's completely different from all the low-budget hand-held digitally shot films that were coming out of the Japan movie industry, incidentally. Those have a raw energy to them, whereas this on the other hand is pedestrian.
That said, though, it's not bad. If you pretend it actually is TV, it's okay. The script has some nice ideas and there's nothing wrong with the production. You could do worse.
The film begins with a Biblical quote, which surprised me. Bearing in mind the movie's title, maybe things were about to get religious? What we see next, though, is a crime scene. The Japanese police have found an imaginative murder, which of course is about to become the first of a whole bunch of them. Yup, it's a serial killer movie. Normally you might expect something like this to be intense and hard to watch, but instead the tone is light, at times almost comedic, and the scene plays out like an episode of a TV series. It's fun. The gore isn't gross and the killer's more eccentric touches are presented as a punchline. The two lead detectives (Yosuke Eguchi and Yoshio Harada) are a bit of a double-act. They've even got a light-hearted sidekick in the form of a doctor who appears to be being played by an actor who's trying to play older than his years with the help of an unconvincing grey moustache.
Mind you, our two protagonists are also charmless and incapable of either gratitude or courtesy. For all I know that language level is normal for police detectives, but personally I thought they came across as dicks.
However things are about to get weirder. It's a body-swapping killer. You could say that made this an SF movie if you liked, or perhaps technically horror. Obviously this isn't the first police detective story to be based around this idea, but to be fair it's taking a decent stab at it. It's less trashy than Friday the 13th Part 9, more thoughtful than The Hidden and more coherent than MPD Psycho. Admittedly it's less memorable than any of those, but that's not because there's anything particularly wrong with it. It's simply less violent and intense.
What's interesting about the film is its characterisation of those two dicks I was talking about. Eguchi didn't become a detective in order to help people, but instead started out as a nerd who gets his kicks from visiting murder scenes. There's a kooky girl who's sweet on him (Miwako Ichikawa), but Eguchi repeatedly demands to know why and says to her face that he doesn't care about her and only saved her because that's his job. This is distinctive. Eguchi's got self-image issues, seeing himself as a voyeur and a sadist, but what's more the body-swapper agrees with this assessment. It thinks it's found a kindred soul. It's got the horn for him. Furthermore Eguchi shows some very odd judgement, which I'd like to think isn't just idiot TV plotting. Twice he'll hold his gun to the body-swapper's head only to stand and wait for it to beat the living daylights out of him, yet on the flimsiest evidence later he's happy to pump bullets into one of his colleagues and pistol-whip a girl.
Harada is less messed up, but he's also a brutal unimaginative thug. One of the film's funniest scenes involves him discovering that he has a fan following him around, who admires his neanderthal old-school methods and wants to become a detective just like him. It's a nascent Eguchi, isn't it?
This is interesting. Some of it would even seem to have been deliberate. However Harada happens to fit the stereotype of the world-weary older partner in a million cop shows, while even I had trouble believing the scene where the two of them start shooting their colleagues and beating up their superiors. Presumably we're meant to think they're so hard-boiled they haven't even noticed the possible career implications.
The body-swapper itself is good, though. I love the reason why it's there, which of all things is theologically intriguing. I also like the implications of this on its behaviour, in which it doesn't simply erase its host's personality but instead acts as an echo chamber for seeds of evil that had been already there. This is the same as MPD Psycho but with a stronger rationale, although in fairness both of them are drawing on Kiyoshi Kurosawa's The Cure. The important thing though is that the body-swapper's brutal, freaky and extreme enough to push the film into something less family-friendly.
I also liked Miwako Ichikawa and her kookiness, not to mention the scene where she goes topless. They miss a trick in not giving her a massive wet T-shirt scene at the end, though.
Fundamentally, this is a pretty good story that's being turned into a film that's not quite firing on all cylinders. It feels entirely believable that it also has an 11-episode TV series version, screened at around the same time. I quite liked it, but I couldn't help noticing how many of the cast were pretty male pin-ups, especially Eguchi. They'll do interesting things like some genuinely creepy "scary water" shots, but then blow it with a predictable weepy bit and a cliched last line for Harada. At the end of the day though, I liked all the fundamentals about this film (the characterisation of the policemen, their broken judgement calls, the body-swapper). I also thought it did a good job of holding up its running time.
It's just... too TV. It's never quite as full-blooded as it could have been. Hell, it's more TV-like than the ostensibly similar but far more disturbed MPD Psycho, despite that really being a TV series which began its six-episode run on Japanese TV only three days after this film's release. Mind you, that was directed by Takashi Miike. This sure as hell wasn't. The DVD box advertises this as "From the producer of the original The Ring", but in fact Joji Iida had nothing to do with the mega-hit Ringu and was instead responsible for the 1995 TV movie and the officially erased sequel Rasen. I could be wrong about this, but I'd guess that he's a bit rubbish.