Dimension Extreme: Nightmare Detective (2006) - Reviewed

Somewhere in Japanese cult provocateur and surrealism filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto’s Nightmare Detective, released in 2006, are recognizable set pieces from his just-previously released claustrophobic short film Haze covered in Arrow Video’s Solid Metal Nightmares boxed set.  I bring this up because it struck me that Tsukamoto is full of wildly nightmarish visual ideas bouncing around in his head waiting for a place to be realized on film.  While Nightmare Detective might be his most broadly appealing directorial effort since Hiruko the Goblin, it nonetheless is loaded with the director’s trademark imagery, speed-demon pacing and penchant for the indescribably horrific.

After two people die in their sleep, Tokyo Detective Keiko (pop singer Hitomi) and her partner Wakamiya (Masanobu Ando) discover both victims had cellphones with the number 0 being the last call dialed.  Soon their search for clues leads them to a psychic ‘nightmare detective’ who can also enter people’s dreams but fears entering another’s mind can cause irreparable brain damage.  As more people start dropping dead, Keiko at the risk of her own life will stop at nothing to bring the killer (whomever he is) to justice.

From the outset this reads like the plot synopsis of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, following the exploits of a killer who can enter people’s dream states and murder them in their sleep.  In Tsukamoto’s hands, however, the film is a difficult-to-categorize detective thriller that functions as a playground for the director’s perverse imagination to run amok.  What’s particularly striking about Tsukamoto’s film is how it deals with fear of the unknown, as many of the nightmarish visions glimpsed in rapid-fire editing never fully reveal themselves in the way real nightmares tend to play out. 

As with the director’s eventual Kotoko, Tsukamoto experimented with casting a pop singer in the lead dramatic role.  In the role of the detective, Hitomi makes Detective Keiko a headstrong but vulnerable heroine ready to dive into the death pit to stop an inexplicable killing spree.  Also integral to the piece is RyĆ»hei Matsuda (best known for Kitano’s Taboo) as the so-called Nightmare Detective.  When he first appears onscreen with his sullen gaze and long hair draped over his face, the impression one immediately gets is that this strange clairvoyant is cursed rather than blessed by his unusual gift. 

Released in America under the ‘Dimension Extreme’ label, Tsukamoto’s film (shot and edited by himself) more or less came and went under the radar but in Japan proved to be a success.  For the uninitiated this will be one of the stranger and more violent ‘bad dreams’ horror films out there, but for Tsukamoto filmgoers the territory is indeed familiar.  While I much preferred the claustrophobic short film Haze, this was nonetheless a solid Tsukamoto effort that rests somewhere between mainstream appeal and the director’s own penchant for surrealism and the macabre.  Not his finest hour but definitely one worth indulging in.

--Andrew Kotwicki