On the last day of term, teacher Yuko (Matsu) tells her unruly 13-year-old students the true story of her young daughter's death: rather than an accident, she was killed by two students, underachieving Naoki and science nerd Shuya (Fujiwara and Nishii). And now Yuko has set in motion her revenge. As the next term starts, a matey new teacher (Okada) takes Yuko's place, and only one student (Hashimoto) seems haunted by Yuko's story. So she tries to get involved in the lives of both boys, whose worlds seem to be closing in on them.
Filmmaker Nakashima sets the scene with Yuko's 30-minute monologue, illustrated with eerie slow-motion flashbacks, before plunging into the psychological and physical fallout. Each sequence is packed with shocking twists that play to our own fears of illness, loneliness, injury and rejection. So even though we can never sympathise with the characters, we can't avoid seeing resonance everywhere. And as events suddenly snap into a very creepy focus, the film cleverly highlights uncomfortable truths about our humanity.
Of course, much of this is told through a pre-teen perspective, which makes it all the more unsettling. Nakashima uses lyrical camerawork and fiendishly clever editing, plus an emotive underscore and moody songs by the likes of Radiohead and The XX. The result is insinuating, mesmerising and constantly shifting from black humour to horrible revelations to grisly violence. This stylised visual approach is artfully contrasted with bracingly realistic performances that mix iciness with vulnerability.
On the way to the shattering climax, there are also complex observations about justice in a world where teens can't be prosecuted for murder. And the underlying theme centres on how our survival instincts push us to prey on those younger and weaker than ourselves in ways that are both harmless and cataclysmic. In the end, it's not so much about revenge as about the dark internal urges we all have. It's not about our hopes and fears, but our actions. And taking responsibility for them.
Run time: 106 mins
In Theaters: Saturday 5th June 2010
Distributed by: Toho Company
Production compaines: Essex Productions
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 12 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 7.9 / 10
Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
Producer: Yuji Ishida, Genki Kawamura, Yoshihiro Kubota, Yutaka Suzuki
Screenwriter: Tetsuya Nakashima
Starring: Kristine Heller as Beth (as Cindy Johnson), John Leslie as Gary, Peter Johns as Biker (as Ron Rogers), Joey Silvera as Tom, Dory Devon as Lady (as Karen Cusick), Jack Wright as Howard (as Terence Scanlon)